The development of symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to ones physical integrity; OR witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person.

This can happen after a one-time natural catastrophe like a hurricane or a flood or after an experience like seeing a bomb attack or seeing someone shot. Sometimes this kind of shock can happen when an unpleasant experience occurs time and time again in a child’s life, like being beaten or sexually abused repeatedly. 

What are the symptoms or indications? 

Children’s PTSD symptoms fall into the following categories: 

  • Re-experiencing
    • * replaying the event in his or her mind
    • * recurrent memories of the event or repetitive play about the event
    • * nightmares, scary dreams
  • Arousal
    • * disorganized and agitated behavior
    • * irritability or anger
    • * nervousness about everyone and everything around the child
    • * jumpy when hearing loud noises
  • Avoidance 
    • * avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or places that remind the child of what happened
    • * numbing, or lack of, emotions
  • Other behaviors
    • * regression to earlier behavior, such as clinging, bedwetting, thumb sucking
    • * difficulty sleeping or concentrating
    • * detached from others, social withdrawal

*To warrant a diagnosis of PTSD, the reaction must be present for more than one month and cause significant impairment in the person’s life and functioning. 

How does PTSD impact classroom performance? 

  • Children with PTSD may have difficulties with school work, especially tasks requiring sustained concentration and organization. They may seem forgetful, inattentive, and have difficulty organizing their work. They may shy away from social situations or seem withdrawn. They may also have difficulty holding it together throughout an entire school day with out emotional breakdowns.

What can be done at school? 

  • Model appropriate expression of feelings and coping
  • Establish and maintain routines, but allow for flexibility
  • Accept the childs regressed behaviors, but encourage and support a return to age-appropriate behaviors
  • Help children use coping strategies
  • Allow children to tell their story in words, play, or pictures to normalize their experience
  • Discuss what to do or what has been done to prevent the event from recurring
  • Maintain a stable and familiar environment
  • Communicate with parents/guardians and other professionals working with the child