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Knoxville — The little Cuban boy at the center of a custody dispute in Florida may suffer emotional trauma from his experiences.

A University of Tennessee childcare expert said 6-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez will need more help and attention from adults, after his mother and stepfather died when their raft overturned in the sea.

“Children often respond to instability and trauma by changing their personality,” Dr. Jan Allen said. “A child who is very outgoing may suddenly become withdrawn, or a child who previously was shy and introverted may become very aggressive.”

Allen said children under stress often temporarily regress in their behavior level.

“Children who can normally dress themselves and make their own bed may need assistance for a time,” Allen said. “They’re signaling that they don’t feel so grown-up and would like to go back to a time when everything was taken care of by somebody else.”