Violence Exposure and the Development of School-Related Functioning: Mental Health, Neurocognition, and Learning

Aggress Violent Behav. 2012 Jan;17(1):89-98. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2011.10.001.


The relation between history of violence exposure and the development of academic and mental health problems is explored. Violence exposed children have an increased risk of developing school-related problems including: mental health problems, learning disabilities, language impairments, and other neurocognitive problems. These problems interact to create a complex web of deficits and disabilities where intervention access points are difficult to assess. Often mental health problems and academic problems develop in parallel. Timing of violence exposure and the developmental stage of the child during exposure complicate our understanding of the underlying mechanism. A model is presented that explores pathways linking violence exposure to aspects of school-related functioning, both academically and behaviorally. Early life stress, in the form of violence exposure, is related to neurocognitive deficits, including executive functioning and problems in self-regulation. Deficits in self-regulation at the level of behavior, and cognitive control and executive functioning, at the level of brain processing, are related to both academic and mental health problems, suggesting a possible psychological mechanism. Biological mechanisms are also included in the model to illustrate the contribution of the stress response, neuroendocrine system response, and neuroanatomical structural and functional impairments associated with violence exposure.