Part III-Trauma diagnosis made easy
If your child has recently been diagnosed with PTSD, you’re likely asking yourself questions like “What does PTSD even stand for?” and “How bad is it?”
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is basically developed after someone has been exposed to a serious traumatic event(s).
Roughly 80% of all individuals that experience a traumatic event end up dealing with some temporary anxiety but do not develop long-term symptoms. Their lives return to normal and they are able to move on.
However, the remaining 20% don’t move on. They struggle with anger, violence, aggressive outbursts, irrational thinking, nightmares, anxiety and paranoia. It’s really difficult and impacts ALL areas of their lives.
Unfortunately, children are also exposed to trauma and like the rest of us, roughly 20% of them develop childhood PTSD.
The goal of this post is to explain some of the clinical jargon related to a trauma diagnosis and help parents determine if their child might be displaying PTSD symptoms.
*If after reading this post, you have further questions please, seek out a mental health professional in your area who is qualified to diagnosis and treat trauma symptoms. I’ve also included a few links to other articles and the criteria for a full PTSD diagnosis.
The good news is that most mental health providers have access to and can facilitate some a trauma assessment and then guide you to finding a suitable trauma specialist.
The PTSD diagnostic criterion for this post is found in the ICD 10. See PTSD Diagnosis
As is the case with most mental health disorders, related symptoms are grouped into ‘criterion’. I’m focusing on the 4 key criterion ‘exposure, avoidance, mood change and arousal’ commonly associated with PTSD.
Exposure (one required)
A child must be exposed to the threat of serious injury, or even death. If the traumatic event involves death it is normally violent or sudden (not a prolonged death related to old age or natural causes).
- Direct exposure.
- Witnessing in person.
- Indirect exposure-learning or hearing of a family member or friend experiencing trauma.
Avoidance (one required)
- Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or feelings.
- Avoidance of trauma-related external reminders (e.g., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations).
In this example, after the traumatic event, a child will try to avoid any reminder of their event. For example, they may try and avoid cars, hospitals, schools wherever similar trauma-related stressors can be found. They may also try to avoid similar feelings and thoughts associated with the traumatic event.
However irrational the thinking may be, they often try to avoid ‘feelings’ all together in an effort to protect themselves from having to ‘re-live’ the traumatic event. Common feelings that are typically avoided by children after trauma are sadness, guilt, regret, shame, and anger.
Mood and Affect (two required)
After the traumatic event, the child has a negative change in their mood or affect.
- Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event (usually dissociative amnesia; not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs).
- Irrational negative beliefs and expectations about themselves or the world (e.g., “If I get behind the wheel again, I’ll just crash again” or “People just die in hospitals, they never get better”).
- Falsely blaming themselves or others for causing the traumatic event or for resulting consequences. “I should have done something,”, “If only I had…” or “I should have stopped it…”
- Persistent negative trauma-related emotions (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
- Significant decrease of interest in pre-trauma related activities. (For example, no longer interested in socializing or participating in hobbies that used to make them happy)
- Feeling alienated from others (e.g., detachment or estrangement).
- Constricted affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions.
Arousal and Re-activity (two required)
Trauma causes significant distress and impairment at school, in the community and at home. Two of the following changes must have begun or worsened after the traumatic event happened.
- Irritable or aggressive behavior
- Self-destructive or reckless behavior
- Hyper-vigilance or constantly tense and ‘on guard’.
- Exaggerated startle response
- Problems in concentration
- Sleep disturbance
* Symptoms above must last for more than 3 months and the symptoms cannot be due to medication, substance abuse or any other illness.
That’s a Wrap
Patience, support and understanding are key to your child’s success towards dealing with PTSD symptoms. Find a qualified professional in your area to lead and guide you through this process. With the help of a strong support network including teachers, psychiatrist, therapists, educational advocates and family members, PTSD symptoms can often be alleviated and children can move on from their traumatic events and enjoy and embrace day to day living again.
Each child is unique and will deal with the challenging symptoms of trauma differently. However, as parents you understand your child and his/her needs better than anyone else. Be there for them by being their advocate, speak up for them when they’re too afraid to speak for themselves, reassure them that you love them and that they are safe. Continue your trauma education and celebrate even the smallest positive change. This gives them confidence and hope that they are improving and can overcome their challenges.