PTSD affects the Classroom

According to Stanford Children’s Health, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that follows an event that the person finds terrifying, either behaviorally or emotionally, causing the person who experienced the event to have persistent, frightening thoughts, memories, or flashbacks.

What causes post-traumatic stress disorder?

The event(s) that triggers PTSD may include:

  • Something that occurred in the person’s life.
  • Something that occurred in the life of someone close to him or her.
  • Something the person witnessed.

A youth’s risk for developing PTSD is often affected by the following:

  • Proximity and relationship to the trauma
  • Severity of the trauma
  • Duration of the traumatic event
  • Recurrence of the traumatic event
  • Resiliency of the youth, the coping skills of the youth, and the support resources available to the youth from the family and community following the event(s).

The following are some examples of events where there is a threat of injury or death that may cause PTSD if experienced or witnessed as a youth or adolescent:

  • Serious accidents (such as car or train wrecks)
  • Invasive medical procedures (under the age of 6)
  • Animal bites (such as dog bites) 
  • Natural disasters or man-made tragedies
  • Emotional abuse, bullying
Who is affected by post-traumatic stress disorder?

About 4% of youth under age 18 are exposed to some form of trauma in their lifetime that leads to post-traumatic stress disorder.

What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder?

Youth and adolescents with PTSD experience emotional, mental, and physical distress when exposed to situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Some may repeatedly relive the trauma during the day and may also experience any, or all, of the following:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feeling jittery or “on guard” or being easily startled
  • Irritability, more aggressive than before, or even violent
  • Avoiding certain places or situations that bring back memories
  • Problems in school; difficulty concentrating
  • Physical symptoms (such as headaches or stomachaches)

How Educators Can Help!

Teachers, counselors and other adults can use their discretion to help youth with PTSD by listening, connecting, modeling and of course teaching.

  • Teachers or adult school staff should provide students with an opportunity to share their experiences and express feelings or other concerns about their safety.
  • Convey interest, empathy and availability, and let students know they are ready to listen.

One of the most common reactions to trauma is emotional and social isolation and the sense of loss of social supports. This can happen automatically, without students or adults realizing that they are withdrawing from their teachers or peers, respectively.

  • Restoring and building connections promotes stability, recovery and predictability in students’ lives.
  • A student’s classroom and school is a safe place to begin restoring normalcy during a troubled time.
  • Through the eyes of youth, adults can identify the “systems of care” that are part of their everyday life, move from beyond the classroom and school to the family and then to other community.
Model Behavior

Adults can model calm and optimistic behavior in many ways, including the following:

  • Maintain level emotions and reactions with students to help them achieve balance;
  • Express positive thoughts for the future, like “Recovery from this disaster may take some time, but we’ll work on improving the conditions at our school every day;” and
  • Help students to cope with day-to-day challenges by thinking aloud with them about ways they can solve their problems.
  • To support the coping process, it is important to help students understand normal stress reactions.
  • School staff can help youth become familiar with normal reactions that can occur after a traumatic event or disaster and teach relevant coping and problem solving skills.

Source: Stanford Children’s Health –

What does resilience and grit look like in youth?

What resilience is…

Resilience is the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity. Key attributes of resilience in at-risk youth include:

  • social competence and optimism
  • a sense of purpose and responsibility
  • attachment to family, to school and to learning
  • effective problem solving and coping skills
  • pro-social values
  • a sense of self-efficacy and positive self-regard.

While the National Resilience Institute defines resiliency based on the 6 following traits:

As an Educator what can I do to enhance resilience

Teachers and schools can enhance resilience through modeling effective behavior and emphasizing positive and social norms between teachers, peers and the academic goals of our youth’s academic/social environment.

Why teaching resilience matters?
  • Resilience enables people of all ages to thrive and take on all that life has to offer, including the inevitable challenges.
  • Resilience is about knowing strengths and calling on them when needed; hence helping develop a growth mindset.
  • Resilience can benefit any youth who may be struggling with their mental health.

In addition, the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 26. Adolescents are prone to at-risk behavior simply based on their brain development, as result, by building resilience in young people, we are empowering them to be able to learn from their mistakes and to understand that failing is okay – it’s an integral part of the learning journey.

How to Manage Your Worries

Would be a great poster resource for any young adult to see as a simple reminder in any classroom or common area.

Continue reading How to Manage Your Worries

What is EBD?

Although many youth normally are carefree , many adolescents experience emotional difficulties throughout stages of their young life. As a past K-12 teacher and now as someone who teaches students with emotional or behavioral issues in a Federal I Special Education Setting and closed-custody correctional setting occurrences of emotional outbursts are commonplace.

Yet, that does not diminish the difficulty of initially identifying an emotional or behavioral disorder (EBD) in youth. Below you’ll find the EBD definition under IDEA 34 CFR 300.8 (4) (i).

(i)A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time & to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers & teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

(ii) Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.


Eligibility and Needs Associated with EBD

Students who meet the IDEA criteria for EBD may exhibit a wide variety of needs for consideration: 

  • Social skill, speech & language deficits 
  • Cognitive factors, such as slower processing speed 
  • Self-regulation & Thought &/or mood disorders 
  • Experience the least favorable outcomes of any group of individuals with disabilities. 

Examples of EBD

The following examples of emotional and behavioral disorders are from the DSM-IVR criteria. This list is not comprehensive, but is included to give examples of EBD affecting youth.

Adjustment Disorders describe emotional or behavioral symptoms that children may exhibit when they are unable, for a time, to appropriately adapt to stressful events or changes in their lives. The symptoms, which must occur within three months of a stressful event or change, and last no more than six months after the stressor ends, are:

Anxiety Disorders are a large family of disorders (school phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, avoidant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, panic attack, etc.) where the main feature is exaggerated anxiety.

Anxiety disorders may be expressed as physical symptoms, (headaches or stomach aches), as disorders in conduct (work refusal, etc.) or as inappropriate emotional responses, such as giggling or crying.

Anxiety occurs in all youth as a temporary reaction to stressful experiences at home or in school. When anxiety is intense and persistent, interfering with the child’s functioning, it may become deemed as an Anxiety Disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which occurs at a rate of 2.5%, means a child has recurrent and persistent obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming or cause marked distress or significant impairment. Obsessions are persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive and inappropriate (repeated doubts, requirements to have things in a specific order, aggressive impulses, etc.).

Compulsions are repeated behaviors or mental acts (hand washing, checking, praying, counting, repeating words silently, etc.) that have the intent of reducing stress or anxiety.

Many youth with OCD may know that their behaviors are extreme or unnecessary, but are so driven to complete their routines that they are unable to stop.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop following exposure to an extremely traumatic event or series of events in a youth’s life, or witnessing or learning about a death or injury to someone close to the youth.

The symptoms must occur within one month after exposure to the stressful event. Responses in youth include intense fear, helplessness, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, persistent re-experiencing of the event, numbing of general responsiveness, or increased arousal.

Young children with PTSD may repeat their experience in daily play activities, or may lose recently acquired skills, such as toilet training or expressive language skills.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition, affecting 3-5% of children, where the child shows symptoms of inattention that are not consistent with his or her developmental level.

The essential feature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development.”

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The central feature of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which occurs at rates of 2 to 16%, is “a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviors towards authority figures, lasting for at least six months …”

The disruptive behaviors of a child or adolescent with ODD are of a less severe nature than those with Conduct Disorder, and typically do not include aggression toward people or animals, destruction of property, or a pattern of theft or deceit.

Typical behaviors include arguing with adults, defying or refusing to follow adult directions, deliberately annoying people, blaming others, or being spiteful or vindictive.

Conduct Disorder, which affects between 6% and 16% of boys and 2% to 9% of girls, has as the essential feature “a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate social norms or rules are violated.”

Youth with Conduct Disorder often have a pattern of staying out late despite parental objections, running away from home, or being truant from school.

Youth with Conduct Disorder may bully or threaten others or may be physically cruel to animal and people. Conduct Disorder is often associated with an early onset of sexual behavior, drinking, smoking, and reckless and risk-taking acts.

Bipolar Disorder (formally Manic Depressive Disorder) has symptoms that include an alternating pattern of emotional highs and emotional lows or depression.

Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most youth will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any. Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, managing mood swings and other symptoms are possible by following a treatment plan.

Major Depressive Disorder occurs when a youth has a series of two or more major depressive episodes, with at least a two-month interval between them. Depression may be manifested in continuing irritability or inability to get along with others, and not just in the depressed affect.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, characterized by the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted level of activities or interests.

Youth with Autism may fail to develop relationships with peers of the same age, and may have no interest in establishing friendships. The impairment in communication (both verbal and nonverbal) is severe for some children with this disorder.

Schizophrenia is a serious emotional disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and personality changes. Hallucinations and delusions, disorganized speech, or catatonic behavior often exist as symptoms of this disorder, which is frequently manifest in young adulthood. The symptoms may also occur in younger children. The lifetime prevalence of Schizophrenia is estimated at between 0.5% and 1%.

After-School Challenges

Youth with EBD often display characteristics that do not support success in or out of school.

  • They may not be able to maintain appropriate social relationships with others
  • They may have academic difficulties in multiple content areas
  • They may display chronic behavior problems, including noncompliance, aggression, & disrespect toward authority figures. 

Youth with EBD by the numbers in terms of overall school completion:

  • Graduated – 48.4%
  • Aged out – 1.3%
  • Dropped out/were expelled – 50.3%
  • School completion rates 14 times lower than their non-disabled peers


A look into the School to Prison Pipeline with a Info-graphic Approach

As a correctional educator of both youthful and adult offenders for over a decade the follow blog from Michael Sandberg’s Data Visualization is very telling. The School-to-Prison Pipeline continues on…

This was previously posted by Michael Sandberg

Readers: In today’s blog post, I am showcasing infographics related to the School to Prison Pipeline. Per their website, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is committed to challenging the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these […]

via DataViz in Education: School to Prison Pipeline Infographics — Michael Sandberg’s Data Visualization Blog