Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

Dr. O'Connor provides school neuropsychological assessments to determine whether a young  person meets the criteria for a post traumatic stress disorder, and if so the level of its severity. The assessment also leads to evidence based interventions to help address the young person's traumatic stress symptoms at school, at home and the community.

These symptoms may result from  a single acute trauma, like a motor vehicle accident, or more chronic, ongoing forms of trauma. Clinicians label this latter form of trauma "Complex Trauma." It refers to what the literature describes as" Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)."  Both types of trauma, either that which is associated with a single acute traumatic event, or the more chronic ongoing types of trauma, can result in symptoms associated with a post traumatic stress disorder.


Complex Trauma is associated with interpersonal relationships that involve betrayal by trusted others, and that is ongoing and chronic in nature. Adverse Childhood Experiences interconnect with Complex Trauma and include abuse, neglect, maltreatment and mental health problems in a parent.  Alcoholism, or other substance use disorders, are mental health concerns in a parent that are associated with ACEs and are considered examples of complex trauma.  Complex traumas also include attachment breaches, bullying by a peer or sibling, or exposure to domestic or intimate partner violence, neglect or abandonment by primary caregivers and others in positions of trust, and/or traumatic losses in those relationships. Adverse childhood experiences, which can also result in symptoms of complex trauma also include community violence,  or the military abuses that rage across war-torn parts of our world. These are examples of ACEs that can contribute to Complex Trauma in young people  

As many as 50% of children will experience some form of trauma before their 18th birthday.

Yet few young people will receive the trauma informed assessments they require to determine the extent and nature of any of the symptoms they show that are associated with a traumatic stress disorder. Instead young people who have suffered, or  continue to suffer from  Complex Trauma, are often misdiagnosed. They may be diagnosed as suffering from numerous other mental health disorders, when trauma is the primary concern.

One trauma expert, who has explored the effects of child abuse noted that when psychiatrists and psychologists see these children as young adults " they come up with all kinds of diagnoses, when in fact what they are simply doing is clumping together some of the outcomes from the pervasive early trauma."

Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms associated with a traumatic stress disorder include various cognitive, behavioral, social and emotional concerns.These are often associated with the DSM-5 diagnosis of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As noted, young trauma victims may be misdiagnosed with various mental health concerns, when the primary diagnosis is a traumatic stress disorder. These may include  depression or anxiety or ADHD, and/or other impulse control or executive function concerns. Symptoms associated with trauma in young people may also include withdrawal/avoidant and/or fearful and anxious behaviors, as well as externalizing, acting out and aggressive behaviors.They may also show high levels  of physiological arousal (e.g., hyperactivity) and problems with attention and concentration.

In addition, trauma is a risk factor for psychological problems in children and adolescents that can extend into the adult years and predispose the young person to various psychologlogical concerns across the life span. This includes substance use disorders, such as addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Failure to address the trauma may cloud the lives of these young people, not only during their growing up years, but also as adults. Trauma co-occurs with various mental health concerns, and can exacerbate pre-existing mental health concerns in young people, as well as adults.

Trauma Assessments Can Help

Are you worried about a young person who is showing symptoms of traumatic stress disorder?  Perhaps he or she  has experienced chronic, ongoing forms of complex trauma, or a single acute traumatic event. Does this young person show post traumatic stress symptoms such as problems with emotional regulation, high levels of physiological arousal and problems with attention and concentration.

Dr. O'Connor offers Psychological Testing and Assessment services. These include trauma informed assessments for children, adolescents and young adults.

Young people  who suffer from trauma, whatever its root, are likely to benefit from a trauma informed assessment. Trauma assessments  determine the nature and extent of the young person's trauma symptoms, and their impact on his or her functioning at home, at school and in the community. They also point to evidence based interventions that can help.

To find out more about Dr. O'Connor's psychological testing services, and how they can help you, help a young person who is showing trauma symptoms, click here.

Dr. O'Connor's book " I Can Be Me" has useful suggestions to help children who are experiencing  adverse childhood experiences, such as addiction in a parent.

To learn  more about trauma and its affects on the developing brain, click here.

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