Toxic stress: is a term developed by Shankoff et al. (2012), who discusses that healthy development can be hindered by excessive or prolonged activation of the stress response systems in the brain and body. This can happen due to exposure to abuse and neglect, growing up in households with domestic violence or adults with substance misuse problems or in environments where there is a high level of criminal activity or sense of hopelessness. Long term, toxic stress, can impact on the structure and function of the brain and therefore the ability to participate and engage in learning. It can activate the flight, fight and freeze responses which may be misinterpreted as disruptive, aggressive or challenging behaviour. Looked after and permanently placed children as well as those who have experienced trauma from their environments such as natural disasters or terrorism, are more likely to have neurodevelopmental challenges and to encounter and display toxic stress responses (Martin-Denham and Watts, 2019).
Adapted from: Shonkoff, J. et al. (2012) The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), pp. 232-246. Martin-Denham, S. and Watts, S. (2019) SENCO Handbook: Leading Provision and Practice. London: Sage Publishers.