Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

This information was originally published on the website of the Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support. Reproduced by permission of Casey Family Programs.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a clinical diagnosis that describes a set of symptoms associated with exposure to a traumatic event. The symptoms may include:

  • vividly remembering the event (often described as reliving the event);
  • children may incorporate the event into play acting;
  • recurring nightmares;
  • intense feelings of distress associated with cues associated with the event;
  • avoidance of thoughts, feelings, people, places, or activities associated with the event;
  • loss of memory about some aspects of the event;
  • lack of feelings, detachment from other people;
  • a sense of futility about the future;
  • difficulty sleeping;
  • irritability; and
  • difficulty concentrating.

Toddlers and even infants may respond to trauma by regressing to earlier developmental stages, appearing very tense and anxious, developing new fears, or becoming extremely stubborn or finicky.

People experience some of these symptoms at various times in their lives for many reasons; it doesn't mean they have PTSD. A mental health professional should make this diagnosis.

Much of what is currently understood about children and posttraumatic stress has come out of work with the young victims of events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, prolonged wars, and school shootings. Only recently have professionals turned their attention to children who are victims of trauma, often repeated on a daily basis, in their own homes. Yet their families - the foster, adoptive, and kinship caregivers who live with them - know that they carry the emotional effects of maltreatment with them in many different ways.

Those families, and child welfare professionals who work with traumatized children, may suffer from secondary traumatic stress.

Here are some resources for finding out more about PTSD in children:

For more information

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