What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is diagnosed in children who have witnessed or been the victim of a significant trauma where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred.  Some examples include:  physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence in the home, automobile accidents and natural disasters.

What does it mean to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Children with PTSD may initially display agitated or confused behavior.  They may show fear, anger, sadness, horror or denial.  They often develop an emotional numbness and avoid places or situations which remind them of the trauma.  They may become depressed, withdrawn or detached from their feelings.

Children with PTSD may re-experience the event in the form of memories, play, nightmares, dreams or emotions which remind the child of the event.  They may also worry about dying, lose interest in activities, have physical symptoms, extreme emotional reactions, trouble falling or staying asleep or have increased alertness.  These symptoms can last for months to years.

What is the best treatment plan?

The best plan of action once a trauma has occurred is early intervention.  An emphasis should be placed on creating a feeling of safety for the child.  Therapy which allows the child to speak, play, draw or write about the event(s) is helpful.  Treatment can also include therapy to reduce fears, worries and an extreme physical reaction to stimuli. Medications may also be helpful in older children.

What will my child be like as an adult?

With the proper treatment, children with PTSD can grow up to be successful adults, have families, get good jobs and lead fulfilling lives.  Some children who do not receive treatment may grow up with increased anxiety, which could lead to physical complications such as high blood pressure, complications with forming relationships and/or difficulties maintaining a productive life.

If your child has experienced PTSD, please share your experience with early intervention services here:

Reviewed by Heather Rotolo, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

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