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Post-traumatic stress disorder in children

Overview and Diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a subtype of anxiety disorder which is characterized by witnessing a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, injury or death, and subsequently developing adverse symptoms. Children can develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of experiencing a traumatic event themselves, witnessing it, or hearing about it happening to somebody close. When it comes to the symptoms of the disorder, feeling fearful, experiencing disturbing recalls, avoidance, and withdrawal are the most common. In order to be diagnosed with the post-traumatic stress disorder, individuals have to be vividly reliving the trauma, suffering from insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns, as well as avoiding places, people and thoughts which remind of the traumatic event. Also, children may lose interest to participate in important activities, and feel disassociated from close family members and peers.  The various symptoms have to interfere with everyday functioning as well as persist for more than 30 days in order to qualify for a clinical diagnosis. Diagnosing the post-traumatic stress disorder in children can be somewhat a challenge as the DSM IV-R is aimed at adults. The clinicians have to be aware that the types of symptoms as well as the children’s ability to communicate stress differ widely from those of adults. Many experts propose adapting the criteria to fit very young individuals, and one of the additional elements necessary for a diagnosis is reexperiencing. Individuals affected have to be exhibiting agony when reminded of the event, difficulties sleeping, constant flashbacks, or imitation of the trauma in play. The child should also express regression in developmental abilities, difficulties in showing emotions, or loss of interest in socializing. Unlike adults, children may also develop fear of activities and elements not related to the traumatic event, such as fear of the dark places, fear of going to the washroom alone, and fear of separating from the parents. When it comes to children who are older, or adolescents, the post-traumatic stress disorder is usually characterized by disturbing flashbacks, which they are reluctant to talk about, aggression, having trouble focusing, as well as sleeping. They may also start avoiding social contact, and participation in previously desired activities. In case the post-traumatic stress disorder goes untreated, or the child is witnessing or living through a traumatic event on a regular basis, the signs include substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, depression, aggression, inability to show feelings, and avoidance.

How Are Children Effected by PTSD

School aged children experience the post-traumatic stress disorder differently from adults. For instance, they might believe that there were indications that the traumatic event was going to occur so if they pay really close attention they will be able to avoid it in the future. Also, elements of the traumatic event are likely to appear during play. When it comes to teenagers, they are the only age group that shows aggression and impulsive behavior.

Prevalence and Risk Factors of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

In the United States alone, around 5 million children are reportedly affected by the PTSD every year. In around one third of cases the traumatic event is a sort of abuse. Children may be physically, psychologically or sexually abused, as well as neglected by parents or primary care givers. Statistical research shows that anywhere between 15 to 43 percent of boys and just as many girls experience some sort of trauma, while around 1 to 6 percent of boys and 3 to 15 percent of girls subsequently develop the post-traumatic stress disorder. Different traumatic events are more or less likely to induce the development of the disorder. For instance, witnessing a random act of violence is least likely to result in PTSD, followed by being involved in a school shooting, and being sexually abused. Witnessing the murder of a parent almost always leads to the PTSD. When it comes to the risk factors, those are all related to the traumatic event itself. For instance, the proximity of the child to the traumatic event, they way parents perceive the traumatic event, as well as the severity of the trauma are the most commonly seen risk factors. Also, the more traumatic events a child is exposed to the more likely is the development of the disorder, with the girls being more susceptible to it than boys. Various research reports ethnic minorities are more prone to acquiring the disorder, but many experts point out that the fact that ethnic minorities might go through more traumatic events has to be taken into consideration. Finally, experts agree that the age in which the child experiences the traumatic event does not change the symptoms but rather the PTSD itself is exhibited differently in various age groups.

Ways of Treatment of PTSD in Children

Various types of psychotherapy are employed to treat children with post-traumatic stress disorder. The younger the child the more likely that play will be utilized in treating the disorder. Clinicians will also make sure that both the parents and the child understand the natural course of the symptoms of PTSD, and that with time and proper counseling they will disappear. In case behaviors such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, and panic attacks arise, those are treated separately with a combination of medications and psychotherapy.

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