Video: Intro to Trauma- ACEs, Trauma, & Toxic Stress

Intro to Trauma- ACEs, Trauma, & Toxic Stress

More about ACEs and Trauma

Click here to download this Word resource to learn more about ACES and trauma.

More about ACEs and Trauma

Trauma is an experience of one or more overwhelmingly stressful adverse events (or ACEs) where one’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined. The event can be witnessed or experienced directly and can cause the person to have an extreme psychological and/or physiological response due to feeling terror and/or perceived helplessness.

Symptoms of trauma vary and can present differently at different times. Below are a few common examples by age group.

Elementary Students

  • Anxiety, fear, and worry about safety of self and others (clingy with teacher or parent)
  • Worry about recurrence of violence
  • Increased distress (unusually whiny, irritable, moody)
  • Changes in behavior:
    • Increase in activity level
    • Decreased attention or concentration
    • Withdrawal from others or activities
    • Angry outbursts or aggression
    • Absenteeism
  • Distrust of others, affecting how children interact with both adults and peers
  • A change in ability to interpret and respond appropriately to social cues
  • Increased somatic complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, overreaction to minor bumps and bruises)
  • Changes in school performance
  • Recreating the event (e.g., repeatedly talking about, “playing” out, or drawing the event)
  • Over- or underreacting to bells, physical contact, doors slamming, sirens, lighting, sudden movements
  • Statements and questions about death and dying
  • Difficulty with authority, redirection, or criticism
  • Re-experiencing the trauma (e.g., nightmares or disturbing memories during the day)
  • Hyper arousal (e.g., sleep disturbance, tendency to be easily startled)
  • Avoidance behaviors (e.g., resisting going to places that remind them of the event)
  • Emotional numbing (e.g., seeming to have no feeling about the event)

Middle School Students     

  • Anxiety, fear, and worry about safety of self and others
  • Worry about recurrence or consequences of violence
  • Changes in behavior: 
    • Decreased attention or concentration
    • Increase in activity level
    • Change in academic performance
    • Irritability with friends, teachers, events
    • Angry outbursts or aggression           
    • Withdrawal from others or activities
    • Absenteeism
  • Increased somatic complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, chest pains)
  • Discomfort with feelings (such as troubling thoughts of revenge)
  • Repeated discussion of event and focus on specific details of what happened
  • Over- or underreacting to bells, physical contact, doors slamming, sirens, lighting, sudden movements
  • Re-experiencing the trauma (e.g., nightmares or disturbing memories during the day)
  • Hyper arousal (e.g., sleep disturbance, tendency to be easily startled)
  • Avoidance behaviors (e.g., resisting going to places that remind them of the event)
  • Emotional numbing (e.g., seeming to have no feeling about the event)

High School Students

  • Anxiety, fear, and worry about safety of self and others
  • Worry about recurrence or consequences of violence
  • Changes in behavior:
  • Withdrawal from others or activities
  • Irritability with friends, teachers, events       
  • Angry outbursts or aggression         
  • Change in academic performance
  • Decreased attention or concentration
  • Increase in activity level
  • Absenteeism
  • Increase in impulsivity, risk-taking behavior
  • Discomfort with feelings (such as troubling thoughts of revenge)
  • Increased use of alcohol and other drugs
  • Discussion of events and reviewing of details
  • Negative impact on issues of trust and perceptions of others

Important Considerations

  • Children of different age levels can present with a range of symptoms and expressions of trauma.
  • Some symptoms are more common in some age groups than others, but they can overlap across groups.
  • Children and youth might present with these behaviors for other reasons not related to a traumatic event (for example, irritability and inattention because they are sick). It is always important to find out more information if you suspect that a student is responding to trauma.
  • Children are not always aware of “trauma reminders” or triggers - events, situations, places, sensations, and even people that they consciously or unconsciously connect to a traumatic event. If a child’s symptoms are the result of trauma, they can experience “trauma reminders” that may cause them to behave a certain way with no obvious trigger in the environment.

Source: Adapted from the Child Trauma Toolkit by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  

Self-Care Tips for Educators

Click here to download this Word resource to learn about self care for educators.

Self-Care Tips for Educators

Trauma takes a toll on children, families, schools, and communities. Trauma can also take a toll on school professionals. Any educator who works directly with traumatized children and adolescents is vulnerable to the effects of trauma—referred to as compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress— being physically, mentally, or emotionally worn out, or feeling overwhelmed by students’ traumas. The best way to deal with compassion fatigue is early recognition.

1. Be aware of the signs. Educators with compassion fatigue may exhibit some of the following signs:

  • Increased irritability or impatience with students
  • Difficulty planning classroom activities and lessons
  • Decreased concentration
  • Denying that traumatic events impact students or feeling numb or detached
  • Intense feelings and intrusive thoughts, that don’t lessen over time, about a student’s trauma •
  • Dreams about students’ traumas

2. Don’t go it alone. Anyone who knows about stories of trauma needs to guard against isolation. While respecting the confidentiality of your students, get support by working in teams, talking to others in your school, and asking for support from administrators or colleagues.

3. Recognize compassion fatigue as an occupational hazard. When an educator approaches students with an open heart and a listening ear, compassion fatigue can develop. All too often educators judge themselves as weak or incompetent for having strong reactions to a student’s trauma. Compassion fatigue is not a sign of weakness or incompetence; rather, it is the cost of caring.

4. Seek help with your own traumas. Any adult helping children with trauma, who also has his or her own unresolved traumatic experiences, is more at risk for compassion fatigue.

5. If you see signs in yourself, talk to a professional. If you are experiencing signs of compassion fatigue for more than two to three weeks, seek counseling with a professional who is knowledgeable about trauma.

6. Attend to self-care. Guard against your work becoming the only activity that defines who you are. Keep perspective by spending time with children and adolescents who are not experiencing traumatic stress. Take care of yourself by eating well and exercising, engaging in fun activities, taking a break during the workday, finding time to self-reflect, allowing yourself to cry, and finding things to laugh about.

Resource: Figley,C.R. (1995). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel, Inc.