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Arkansas State University

Making Room for Trauma in the Inclusive Classroom

When children suffer personal trauma, learning in a classroom environment can become very difficult. These children may not appear visibly different, but they can struggle just as severely as children with more recognizable challenges like dyslexia. Teachers need to understand what is different about trauma survivors’ learning abilities in order to best meet their needs. All children deserve positive school experiences regardless of their previous experiences and challenges. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in children can make learning extremely challenging, but teachers can learn how to overcome these challenges in an online master’s degree in education program.

How Does PTSD in Children Affect Their Learning in School?

The body produces a hormone called cortisol when stress arises. Normal stressors, like encountering new situations or manageable challenges, dissipate after a brief period, which allows the nervous system to return cortisol levels to normal. However, in traumatic situations, the body produces too much cortisol, which interferes with brain function. As such, PTSD in children can actually change the way a child learns. The learning areas most commonly affected by trauma are those that engage new information, incorporate verbal information and maintain focus.

Why Must Teachers Learn About PTSD in Children?

According to national statistics, 4 to 6 percent of children under age 18 will receive a PTSD diagnosis, so teachers must be prepared to meet the needs of these children. According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms in children can include the following:

  • Recurring nightmares.
  • Intense vigilance.
  • Separation anxiety.
  • Change in school performance.
  • Emotional detachment.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Excessive worry.
  • Physical complaints.

How to Accommodate PTSD in Children

One of the benefits of an online master’s degree in education is that teachers can learn how to support children with PTSD in their classrooms. Some of these strategies include simplifying classroom transitions, maintaining consistent classroom structure and scheduling, and giving the child the time to share his or her traumatic event in a safe space. When teachers learn how to support PTSD in children, they will feel more confident with this type of diversity in the classroom. Teachers can also rely on guidance counselors and school psychologists to help them with the needs of a specific child since these needs will vary with each case. An important consideration is how to keep children who have been through traumatic situations calm. Teachers who are prepared with a number of different ways to calm traumatized children will likely stay ahead of difficult situations instead of trying to keep up with them.

Creating Different Ways to Help Children With PTSD

There are a number of accommodations for PTSD in children — among them, the company of other children. When children learn from each other, they can offer support that adults cannot. Supervised, small-group situations wherein children share their experiences and their strategies can be incredibly helpful for all involved. Most importantly, teachers should remember to look for innovative ways to support all children in the classroom. Support for even one child can benefit all children.

Learn more about A-State’s online Master of Science in Education programs.


Kelly Bear: Educator’s Guide to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America: Responding to Students with PTSD in Schools

Gift From Within: PTSD Resources for Survivors and Caregivers: Helping Traumatized Children at School

Bright Hub Education: Effects of Emotional Trauma on the Brain and Learning

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