Introduction to Trauma
Trauma is a serious consideration in special education. When a child is exposed to a traumatic event, such as abuse, neglect or death, it can have a life long effect on her mental health. The National Center for PTSD states that 15 to 43 percent of girls in the United States and 14 to 43 percent of boys experience a traumatic event.
Exposure to traumatic experience may lead to psychological conditions, with one of these disorders being post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that affects many survivors of trauma. Three to 15 percent of girls and one to six percent of boys who have a traumatic experience in their life develop PTSD, according to the National Center for PTSD; the organization adds that the percentage increases with certain types of traumas, such as seeing a parent killed or being sexually abused. For a child to be diagnosed with PTSD, she must meet the criteria delineated in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-IV-TR), which are at least one symptom from the intrusive recollection criterion, at least three symptoms from the avoidant criterion, and at least two symptoms from the hyperarousal criterion.
Besides the psychological effects of PTSD, the anxiety disorder can damage the brain, resulting in problems learning and maintaining attention. Many PTSD studies have focused on Vietnam war veterans, finding the more severe the symptoms of PTSD are, the smaller the hippocampus is (Bremner). The hippocampus is the region of the brain that consolidates short-term memories into long-term memories. Damage to the hippocampus can affect the patient's ability to learn new information. Severe effects on the brain are seen with patients who experienced trauma during childhood (Bremner, Vermetten, Afzal and Vythilingam). Addressing these issues early can help the patient heal emotionally and progress in school.