The Trauma Informed Classroom
Dr. Toni Tollerud, NIU
Linda Delimata, ICMHP
ACES Study
 Built upon a conceptual framework that risk factors for disease and
other physical ailments are strongly affected by adverse childhood
experiences.
 The study assesses what might be considered “scientific gaps” about
the origins of risk factors.
 This study takes a whole life perspective. If childhood stressors can
be identified, we might be able to provide early intervention or
utilize protective factors that would reduce the risk.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Growing up in a household with:
Verbal Abuse
Recurrent physical, sexual or emotional abuse
Emotional or physical neglect
Domestic violence between parents
An alcoholic
Substance abuser
An incarcerated household member
Someone who is chronically depressed, suicidal, institutionalized or
mentally ill
 Live with One or no biological parents
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(2006, http://www.acestudy.org/)
Consequences Of Unresolved Trauma
(2004, http://www.acestudy.org/)
Findings of the Study
 Over 17,000 people participated in the study
 Almost 2/3 experienced at least one ACE
 Over ¼ reported one ACE
 Over 25% reported 2 or more
 Over 12% reported 4 or more. One out of 8
 Higher ACES scores =
 Higher scores = increased risk for health problems
 Strong relationship to health-related behaviors during childhood
& adolescence including smoking, early sexual activity, illicit
drug use, teen pregnancies, and suicide attempts.
What is Stress?
 Stress is defined as a process that exists over time. When is
continues, it can often lead to a debilitating outcomes as it
accumulates.
 Stress affects all aspects of ones functioning

Collins & Collins (2005)
 When a child encounters a perceived threat to their safety, their
brains trigger a complex set of chemical and neurological events
known as the “stress response”.
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
Stress and the Body & Brain

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Stress is the set of changes in the body and the
brain that are set into motion when there are
overwhelming threats to physical or
psychological well-being.
Under threat, the limbic system engages and the
frontal lobes disengage. When safety returns,
the limbic chemical reaction stops and the
frontal lobes re-engage.
(van der Kolk, B., 2005)
Reactions to Stress and Trauma
 Fight
 Freeze
 Flee
 Under normal circumstances these responses to stress are constructive and help
keep a child or adolescent safe.
 However, when a child is traumatized, and is overwhelmed with stress and fear,
these responses can become a regular mode of functioning.
 Consequently, a youth may react to their world even when the dangers are
NOT present because they cannot turn off the survival strategies in their brains.
Traumatic Stress and Critical Windows of
Brain Development
Cortex
Limbic Brain
Mid Brain
Brain Stem
cognitive functioning: 12
months - 48 months
emotional functioning: 6
months - 30 months
motor functioning: first
year
state regulation:
pre-birth - 8 months
(Adapted from: Perry, 2002)
The Impact of Extreme Trauma on Brain
Development
1997, Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.
Explicit and Implicit Memory
CORTEX:
HIPPOCAMPUS:
higher level
thought
processes,
planning,
problem
solving
Explicit memory governs recollection
of facts, events or
associations
AMYGDALA:
Adrenal gland
Implicit memory – No
conscious awareness
(procedural memory –
e.g., riding a bike and
emotional memorye.g., fear)
Chronic stress = overstimulation of the Amygdala, resulting in the release of
cortisol, possible shrinkage or atrophy of the Hippocampus and Cortex,
affecting memory and cognition, and leading to anxiety or depression.
(Adapted from: Brunson, Lorang, & Baram, 2002)
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a serious physical or psychological injury that has
resulted from a highly threatening, terrifying, or horrifying
experience.
(Echterling, Presbury & McKee, 2005)
Trauma arises from an inescapable stressful event that
overwhelms an individuals’ coping mechanisms.
(van der Kolk & Fisler, 1995).
Trauma Can Be…..
 Characterized as more than simple loss
 Dependent upon an actual event
 Dependent upon a child’s proximity to the traumatic event
 Dependent upon the number of risk factors that confront a
child
 Dependent upon a child’s age
 “In a study that assess adolescent females who witness or experienced violence, 67 %
met the diagnosis for PTSD”
CIVITAS (2002)
Physiological Effects
Perpetual extreme levels of stress arousal may lead to:

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hypervigilance and loss of ability to concentrate
altered vision and hearing
hyperactivity or dissociation
avoidance of potential triggers to trauma
altered sleep patterns
altered eating patterns
compulsive self harm
attempts to self medicate with substances
(Cairns, K. & Stanway, S., 2004.)
Physical Effects
Continued stress arousal may lead to:
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headaches
digestive disorders
respiratory disorders
other psychosomatic illnesses
muscle tension
aching joints
clumsiness
altered spatial awareness
(Cairns, K. & Stanway, S., 2004.)
Emotional Effects

Inability to process emotions through language

Diminished capacity for empathy

Hypersensitivity to trauma in others

Diminished range of emotions: terror or rage

Depression or sadness

Feelings of worthlessness and shame

Bad memories

Recurring outbreaks

Dissociation

(Cairns, K. & Stanway, S., 2004; CIVITAS, 2002)
Social Effects
May become socially isolated or member of deviant peer group due to:
 Extreme reactions of terror or rage
 Diminished empathy limits social connectedness
 Survival mode restricts motivation to be sociable
 Avoidance restricts capacity to connect to others
 Diminished language restricts social accountability
 Traumatic identity leads to persistent victim or aggressor behaviour
(Cairns, K. & Stanway, S., 2004.)
Cognitive Effects
Negative cognitive reactions affect how a youth processes
information and performs advanced thinking.
 Inability to remember details
 Memory impairment
 Poor attention
 Unable to concentrate
 Lack of goals
 Poor problem solving
 Sense of shortened future
CIVITAS ( 2002)
Response to Trauma Infants
(Birth -2 ½ year)
 Eating disturbances
 Irritable, difficult to soothe
 Developmental regression
 Language delay
 Attachment disorder
 Failure to thrive
 Sleep disturbance
DCFS Trauma Training, 2006
Response to Trauma Young Children (2 ½ 6 years)
 Helplessness and Passivity
 Generalized Fear
 Confusion, difficulty planning
 Difficulty identifying what is bothering them
 Attributing magical qualities to traumatic reminders
 Fighting or threatening behavior
 Attention Problems
 Sadness/Depression
 Separation Anxiety
 Specific Fears
DCFS Trauma Training, 2006
Response to Trauma School-age Children
(6-11year)
 Physical complaints
 Bedwetting
 School failure/absenteeism
 Behavioral problems
 Attention problems
 Fighting or threatening behaviors
 Guilt feelings
 Acting like a parent to siblings
 Depression
DCFS Trauma Training, 2006
Response to Trauma Adolescents (12 to
18 years)
 Antisocial behavior
 Runaway
 Depression/Suicidal thought
 Sleep Disorders
 Absenteeism
 Acting like a parent to siblings
 Eating Disorders
 Dating violence
 Substance abuse
 School failure
 Relationship problems
DCFS Trauma Training, 2006
Most Frequent Difficulties Following Chronic
Trauma
75%
61.5%
59.2%
57.9%
60%
53.1%
45.8%
45%
30%
15%
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(Spinazzola.J, et.al., 2005)
Relationship Between Diagnoses & Eligibilities
Special Education Eligibility:
Psychological/Neurobiological Diagnosis:
Traumatic Stress
Emotional Disturbance
Inability to learn not explained by health, intellectual, or sensory
disability;
Inability to build/maintain relationships;
Inappropriate behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
Pervasive anxiety or depression;
Physical symptoms or fears.
Rarely in attentive state
Defiant, aggressive, oppositional
Hyperarousal
Internalizing disorders
Fear, somatic disorders
Special Education Eligibility:
Specific Learning Disability
Disorder in basic psychological processes involved in
understanding/using language, spoken or written, may
manifest in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read,
write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
Rarely in attentive state;
Lack of concentration;
Misperceptions;
Avoidance;
Dissociation;
Repeated intrusive memories
(Shumow & Perry, 2006)
Trauma’s Impact on Learning
Inability to process social cues and to convey feelings in an appropriate manner.
ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
DIFFICULTIES
CLASSROOM BEHAVIORS
 Language & communication skills
 Learning and retrieving new
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verbal information
Problem-solving
Goal setting
Lack capacity for self-regulation
Distorted world view
 Reactivity and impulsivity
 Aggression
 Defiance
 Withdrawal
 Perfectionism
Protective Factors
Some children who are exposed to traumatic
events appear to be more resilient than others.
What are those factors that protect the children
from the risks of the trauma?
Common Protective Factors for Child
Abuse and Neglect
Protective Factors fall into three basic categories:
 Child Protective Factors
 Parental/Family Protective Factors
 Social/Environmental Protective Factors
Child Welfare Information Gateway,
www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/whatworks/riskprotectivefac
tors.cfm.
Child Protective Factors
 Good health
 Above average intelligence
 Hobbies and interests
 Good peer relationships
 Personality factors
temperament, disposition, coping style, positive self-esteem, social skills, internal
locus of control
Child Welfare Information Gateway,
www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/what
works/riskprotectivefactors.cfm.
Parental/Family Protective Factors
 Positive and warm relationships
 Supportive family environments
 Clear boundaries and consistent follow-through
 Help from extended family
 Stable relationship with parents
 Role models
 Family expectations of pro-social skills
 Parental education
Child Welfare Information Gateway,
www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/whatworks/riskp
rotectivefactors.cfm.
Social/Environmental Protective Factors
 Mid to high socioeconomic status
 Access to health care and social services
 Parental employment
 Participation in faith based activities
 Good schools
 Supportive adults
Child Welfare Information Gateway,
www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/whatworks/riskprotectivefactors.cfm.
Mental Health
Mental health is the “successful performance of mental
function resulting in productive activities, fulfilling
relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt
to change and to cope with adversity.”
Department of Health and Human Services (1999)
Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
Social Emotional Learning
SEL is the process of acquiring the skills to recognize and manage
emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive
relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging
tasks effectively.
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2005). Safe and Sound, IL Edition
What are the Core
SEL Competencies?
Recognizing one’s emotions and
values as well as one’s strengths
and limitations
Managing
emotions and
behaviors to
achieve
one’s goals
Selfawareness
Selfmanagement
SEL
Social
awareness
Responsible
decisionmaking
Relationship
Skills
Showing understanding
and empathy for others
Graphic: CASEL
Making ethical,
constructive
choices about
personal and
social behavior
Forming positive
relationships, working in
teams, and dealing effectively
with conflict
Approaches to Helping Traumatized
Students Learn
 Understand the needs of the students
 Create a trauma-sensitive school environment where needs
are addressed
 Connect with families and communities, mental health and
child welfare staff, and others as part of the social and
professional network to support the recovering child
Curriculum for Helping Your School Create a
Trauma Sensitive Environment
The Massachusetts Advocates for Children provides a free
resource to download at
http://www.massadvocates.org/helping_traumatized_children
_learn.
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
Change the School-Wide Infrastructure and Culture of the school
 School leadership and administrators need to build into the SIP or
school-wide plan a way to integrate trauma-sensitive routines into the
school
 The school must weave trauma-sensitive approaches across the fabric of
the school
 All stakeholders need to identify and address barriers to incorporating
trauma sensitive approaches into the school
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
Train Staff to do three important tasks:
 Strengthen relationships between children and adults and
convey the fact that staff are caring adults in the lives of
traumatized youth and their caregivers
 Identify and use outside supports and resources
 Help youth modulate their emotions and gain social and
academic acceptance
 SEL
 Role of the Counselor is paramount here
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
 Begin the process of a school-wide Implementation of Social
and Emotional Learning
 SEL enhances factors that help traumatized children do
better in school:
- creates a safer environment
- helps make closer connections with others
- teachers the skills needed to move through our world
- helps students perform to their fullest potential
How Safe is Your School?
 What things are you seeing in your school that might be
problematic for youth who have experienced trauma/
 What kinds of things does your school do to promote the
safety of all students?
 What might your school do to enhance the safety of your
school?
 What supports or resources do you need?
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
What teachers and counselors can do:
Maintain high academic standards
Help students feel safe
Teach students how to manage behaviors and set limits
Reduce bullying and harassment
Provide youth with a sense of agency—youth need to be able to make
choices which strengthens their sense of empowerment
 Build on strengths
 Understand the connection between behavior and emotion
 Avoid labels
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Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
 Link with Mental Health Professionals in the School and Community
 Be sure they are trauma sensitive providers
 Create classrooms that address the needs of traumatized children in
academic instruction
 Help teachers to learn teaching techniques that support these students.
 Work from a students area of competence
 Reinforce student success
 Establish routines for students-make things predictable
 Focus on the timing of lessons and activities
 Describe plans in detail
 Use language-based teaching approaches
 Identify and process feelings
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
Steps to Building a Trauma-Sensitive
Perspective in Your School
 Build Non-academic relationships with youth
 Develop policies and protocol for students regarding discipline,
safety, confidentiality
 Balance accountability with understanding traumatic behavior
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (2005)
• Keep in mind the role that
trauma plays in so many
aspects of a child’s world.
• Ask yourself if the behaviors
being exhibited are affected
by trauma as well as other
concerns, and if co-morbidity
exists how to approach the
intervention for that child.
• By seeing the relationship of
learning and social problems
in the child’s environment we
can better impact their
success by unifying our
approach.
Resources:
 www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/ACE
 www.massadvocates.org
 www.acestudy.org
 www.icmhp.org
 www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/programs/whatworks/riskprotectivefactors.cfm
 www.casel.org
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The Trauma Informed Classroom