Psychologists have researched how people's memories of a traumatic event can effect how likely they are to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of it. They've found that among adults with PTSD and acute stress disorder (ASD) trauma memories are fragmented and disorganised; are expressed more through the senses than words, and show increased emotional content. However, there has been much less research into how this process works in children. Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London studied 50 children being treated in hospital after an assault or a road-traffic accident. Some of the children developed ASD while others didn't and the children were asked to write the story (or narrative), both of the traumatic event itself and of another event which was unpleasant, but not traumatic. The children with ASD had significantly higher levels of disorganization in their trauma narrative compared to children without ASD and with their own non-trauma narrative. For all the children trauma narratives had significantly higher sensory content and lower positive emotion content than the comparison story. The severity of the children's ASD symptoms was significantly predicted by the level of disorganisation in the trauma narrative and the child's negative appraisals (e.g. 'this event has ruined my life,' 'I'm going mad to feel like this.') of the event.
Salmond, C. H. ... [et al] - The nature of trauma memories in acute stress disorder in children and adolescents Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02340.x