Addressing PTSD in children
Assistant Professor of Education Sue Foo, Ed.D., noticed a trend in the reports her graduate students were submitting in her special education classes. These students, who teach in elementary, middle, and high schools, were identifying behavior problems they called post-traumatic stress disorders.
“Children diagnosed with PTSD, which is a medical diagnosis, are being placed in special education,” Foo said of her graduate students’ research. “They’re not getting the help they need because those teachers don’t have enough information to provide appropriate support services.” Indeed, this sort of help isn’t something that is part of the special education teacher’s curriculum.
In an effort to explore the hidden burden of PTSD in schools, Foo requested and received a 2007-2008 WSC Faculty Mini-Grant. She first surveyed her former students who are now special education teachers and counselors throughout Worcester County. She learned that they’ve heard of PTSD, but they don’t know much about it. Furthermore, her respondents said that they saw certain behaviors, but they did not know the underlying causes of those behaviors.
Some PTSD-diagnosed children have experienced physical abuse. Others have been sexually abused and are in foster care. Still others have witnessed violence. Each child requires special treatment in terms of the specific trauma. “Most often, these children are medicated as a way to deal with their behavior problems,” Foo says.
Last fall, as part of her project, Foo participated in a two-day workshop, “New Frontiers in Trauma Treatment,” to learn more about PTSD. This spring, she organized focus groups with teachers and school counselors to find out what they know about PTSD, how they deal with it, and what kind of help they need to address it.
From there, she hopes to be able to provide workshops to help special education teachers who have children diagnosed with PTSD in their classrooms. She may also design a new course to help teachers support these children.
“We’re also seeing children diagnosed with PTSD in regular classrooms,” says Foo. “These children are referred to the school counselor when their academic performance drops.”
Their PTSD gets labeled a “disorder,” and they wind up in special education services. Unfortunately, Foo notes, few special education departments have the resources or the training to deal specifically with PTSD.
She is working to change that.
President’s Annual Report, 2008