Nearly 35 million U.S. children have suffered some form of trauma. Many are frequently misdiagnosed with ADHD and other learning and behavioral issues as trauma symptoms can mimic such issues - particularly in a classroom setting.
“Children who have been overwhelmed by stress or exposure to violence, and experience lack of security frequently have difficulty controlling impulsive behavior and focusing their attention on tasks at school. While these behaviors are disruptive in classrooms – they are devastating to the children themselves.”
It is disheartening to have been thus far unable to find any mention of trauma informed education addressed by our current administration, particularly the new United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
That nearly 35 million children have suffered from or have been exposed to some form of trauma gives voice to what pediatrician, Dr Nadine Burke Harris feels is one of the most profound health issues facing our children today.
According to a 2015 report from the DC Children's Law Center:
“Children can be affected by a single event or ongoing trauma. It harms executive functioning and their ability to regulate emotions, and it shapes how their brains develop. Children who have been traumatized often feel unsafe and can’t concentrate; they may be withdrawn or have a strong emotional reaction to something seemingly harmless.”
My family has lived this on a personal level. In 2004 my son sustained a serious, very traumatic, life threatening accident. While the medical care was excellent, we were largely unprepared for how effects of trauma would play out in the classroom over many years.
We were offered many differing diagnoses and opinions including, ADD, test anxiety, encoding/decoding/processing difficulties, “he doesn’t pay attention,” “he’s just a daydreamer...”
Remedies for some of these issues - one or more of which he may have had without having sustained a trauma, it’s hard to be sure - were mildly useful, however, no one connected the trauma to his school performance; a connection that once made would prove to be quite valuable in locating more effective treatment.
Though our son’s outward wounds had significantly healed, the impact of the stored trauma on his brain had resulted in less visible wounds; wounds we could not see but that significantly impacted his ability to focus, concentrate, remember and learn.
Approaching such issues from a trauma informed perspective can help educators distinguish between students who simply have ADD from those whose symptoms may stem from stress or trauma and thus enable them to respond more effectively.
A trauma informed educator, doctor or parent can recognize that behaviors that mimic attention or emotional issues are often symptoms of stress or trauma in disguise.
Lack of such awareness can result in ignorance at best, and punitive or harmful responses at worst.
There is good reason countless parents and teachers raised their voices over DeVos’ confirmation. In the end it appeared that politics and money overrode many of the important intricacies behind what makes healthy and engaged students; particularly students who are disabled or facing serious struggles.
In other words - there appeared to be little attention given to families’ personal stories coupled with sound research on the impact of trauma in a classroom.
“Between her lack of experience with public education, her support for diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools without accountability requirements, and her lack of understanding of the challenges facing students with disabilities, Mrs. DeVos has shown herself to be completely unqualified for this position.”
It is now up to parents, teachers and informed professionals to do all they can to heighten awareness.
“Trauma-sensitive schools can improve academics, mainly by helping children feel safe and enabling them to build supportive relationships with school staff“
Hopefully, Secretary DeVos will rise to the occasion.