Surviving Childhood: An Introduction to the Impact of Trauma

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Lesson 1: Introduction to Childhood Trauma
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Introduction to Childhood Trauma

  • T. is an 8-year-old boy who survived a tornado that destroyed his home. Prior to the tornado he showed no interest in weather or fear of storms. Following the event, he was unwilling to go outside if there were clouds in the sky. He was tearful and frightened when it rained, particularly when there was thunder. Rather than watching his usual shows, T. would spend hours watching the Weather Channel. These behaviors and feelings impeded his ability to resume his previous excellent academic, social, and emotional functioning.
  • M. is a 10-year-old boy who was in a car accident that killed one of his siblings. Prior to the accident he had no academic, social, or behavioral problems. He had minor physical injuries. Six months after the accident, his school performance had deteriorated to the point where he was given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. The physician was given the history of distractibility and inattentiveness in school, but the family did not make any connection between these symptoms and the accident. Since he never talked about the accident or his brother, the parents felt he "had dealt with it." The physician with only the history of attention and behavior problems gave the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and prescribed Ritalin. The medication did not help.
  • S. is a 12-year-old girl with a history of a childhood leukemia. Diagnosed at age 3, she had a series of hospitalizations, procedures, and treatments that resulted in complete remission of the disorder by age 5. She had normal development in all areas following this successful treatment. At age 12, she was entering puberty and went to a new physician's office for a routine (non-gynecological) examination. In the waiting room, she began to feel anxious and sweaty and had a sense of impending doom. When led back to the examination room, she started to resist, screaming, crying, and striking out at her mother and the nurse. Unable to calm down, she finally collapsed on the floor, rocking and sobbing, completely unresponsive to verbal input. Over time, it became clear that the sights, sounds, and smells of this medical office were cues associated with the fear and feelings from her previous painful and, to a young child, confusing medical treatments for her leukemia.


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