Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop in children after they have lived through a particularly traumatic event. These events include natural disasters, violent crimes, rape and sexual assault, transportation accidents and war. Not all children who live through a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but in general, girls develop PTSD more often than boys. Incidence rates can be as high as 15% in such children.
Signs and Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself slightly differently in children than adults. At a young age children are often unable to verbalise what they are experiencing so they may not display any particular signs or symptoms of PTSD other than general signs of fearfulness, anxiety (particularly about being separated from caregivers and loved ones), and differences in sleeping patterns. These young children should be observed carefully for behavioural changes following a traumatic event which might signal PTSD. Children may display the same signs, as well as re-enact or “play” at the traumatic event. Some children may also mis-remember the sequence of events involved in the traumatic event. Teenagers may exhibit all of these symptoms as well as act aggressively towards others. Memories of/flashbacks to the trauma, an emotional numbness, nightmares, anxiety and general fearfulness are also characteristics of PTSD.
Diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be diagnosed in children only by qualified child mental health professionals in accordance with diagnostic guidelines. These guidelines require that the signs and symptoms described above occur in response to one singularly traumatic event in a child’s life. This event is usually very obviously connected to the child’s reactions and signs/symptoms.
Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The most common treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is counselling or “talk therapy”. Counselling may be suggested for the individual child diagnosed with PTSD or for the family as a whole. For particular children, especially young children, play therapy may be recommended instead. In some cases medication may also be recommended to treat the symptoms of the disorder. The professional who diagnoses PTSD in a child will generally also offer advice for treatment.
Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Relatives and friends of children diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can have a major impact on the success of treatment for this disorder. Providing love, support and patience, offering verbal encouragement, serving a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise are all things that others can do to support children with PTSD. Keeping regular bed times and sleeping hours are also important for children, though children with PTSD who suffer from nightmares may need extra encouragement to reclaim a comfortable sleeping routine. Children who return to the traumatic event whether via “play” or in disturbing memories and flashbacks will also likely need extra comforting at the time.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop after an individual is exposed to a traumatic event. Children often experience PTSD differently than adults and have signs and symptoms that are distinct from adult experiences. Young children, particularly those who can not verbalise their emotions, should be watched carefully for behavioural changes that might signal PTSD. Further information on PTSD and children can be obtained from a GP or child mental health professional.