Trauma manifests in many ways in the classroom, therapy room, and other youth work settings. What’s most important is that professionals have an understanding of how trauma affects the brain and how sometimes youths’ behaviors really are a result of triggered trauma and not simply a “decision” to defy you as the adult. With deeper understanding and integration with present-moment practice, teachers, therapists, and other youth workers can be compassionate and use their understanding as a mechanism to build relationships, safety, and trust with the traumatized youth. The key is for us adults to not function from a place of ego, needing to be right, or authoritative assertion, but rather a compassionate, understanding, and relationship-based perspective. Such a relating style illustrates a trauma-informed approach.
Sam Himelstein, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of the Center for Adolescent Studies, Inc.
When I read this above paragraph, so many things come to my mind. First and foremost, I was that kid! I was the traumatized youth that was labeled many things. I was labeled everything, but the right things. I was lost in the shuffle of life, and my intelligence was left of the classroom floor, as my personal view was clouded.
I did not have anyone willing to take that deeper look into my lack of attention, drive or ambition to do well. I was simply looked over as the “day dreamer.” This was me during my youth. I lived in a clouded bubble of misery every single day.
The real truth was that I was traumatized by a mother who was extremely mentally ill. I was devastated by the loss of my older brother, and I was living in a home that was a war zone with complete dysfunction! The battle wound ran deep, affecting me in ways that I was not aware of until I grew up.
That trauma definitely stunted my brain development in so many ways, and as an adult looking back, it devastates me to think that my struggles were so difficult, and nobody cared enough to pay attention—or even step up to ask the questions.
I remember sitting in a classroom as the teacher was talking, and all of a sudden things went blank and dark. I was seeing flashes of my home life, my mother’s violent or bizarre behaviors, my father’s anger, and my brother’s dying body lying on the couch. I was probably nine or ten at the time. When I would bounce back from that darkness, I was completely lost, and whatever the teacher was talking about was gone from my mind completely.
I call them the “dark spots” as they are periods lost in time, never to be regained. I had many, many “dark spots” growing up, especially in the classroom. Can you imagine how frightening and frustrating this must have been for me and countless children out there in the world. You are trying so hard to figure it all out, but the damaged mind of a child or young adult simply cannot. It is all too much, and the brain tries to shield us from that abuse and trauma.
The abused or traumatized child walks around in a state of confusion trying to find their footing. It is a horrible place to be, especially in the classroom when you are expected to learn and excel. Also, many children may feel stupid and not worthy. I know I did! I always wondered what was wrong with me. I would see things in a different way. Some things were twisted and backwards! Words would change right before my eyes, and numbers would switch up so quickly.
I now know that is what they call “Developmental Disability” induced by trauma, neglect, abuse, and dysfunction of environment. As a child’s brain grows in levels from the bottom on up, there are what is called “misfires” when it is traumatized. The brain has blank areas of missed development, making it extremely difficult for a child or young adult to learn or make good healthy decisions.
Many children with this disability are labeled—troublemakers, Impulsive or Oppositional Defiant.
When I grew up back in the ’70s and ’80s, there was very little research about this and a complete lack of education. Our personal circles growing up—family, teacher, doctors, friends, etc.—kept to themselves, never asking the important questions because of a silent protocol.
“What happens in the home stays in the home.”
That very protocol went on to do quite a bit of damage. Many of our youth never made it out alive, and those who did, suffered profusely for it.
Here is a very interesting statement that hits home very hard for me:
The people in your age group who did not experience life altering trauma had an advantage over you. Your brain was focused on surviving, while they were free to develop and grow. You might feel like you’re left behind, but it’s because you were doing your best to survive life. Powerful!
This statement hit me like a ton of bricks, because it is so very true.
The abused child is always in “fight or flight” mode inside their mind, again clouding their view and making it nearly impossible to learn. If you think about it, the abused child, like myself, had to work ten times harder than their peers just to try and keep up.
It was exhausting for me to keep up with everyone else, and most of the time, I was left feeling isolated, frustrated, and stupid. I would think to myself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get this?”
When I finally reached high school, my brain did catch up on some levels, but I always knew I thought and responded differently to learning. I was also very much aware of my own thought process and knew that I had to focus as hard as I could so it would stick inside my mind.
I do believe by teaching myself how to focus that it helped me achieve my goals, but it was a painstaking process. No child or young adult should have to go to such extreme levels to learn.
As an adult, a writer, and published author, I still see my disabilities staring me straight in the eyes when it comes to processing and learning. I will write things down thinking it was one way but comes out completely different. I still read and re-read everything I do, countless times because of the damage those old “misfires” created so long ago.
I have also noticed that I write exactly how my brain processes things, because I will leave many spaces in between my words and sentences. These are the very “blank spaces” that I am talking about.
It is not easy!
I also do this with numbers. When I write down numbers, or have to process anything to do with math, it is so difficult for me. Again, I have to push everything else out of my mind and focus so hard. Even when I do, I still can struggle at times.
It is a lot of “brain work” that has to be done to gain focus. I continue to be a work in progress!
Why am I sharing all of this?
It is simple, but complex at the same time. We need to educate our educators, doctors, and family members. Our society needs to understand that our youth have been in a battlefield of disaster for far too long—and they need help.
HELP needs to happen now.
We need to be a voice for the voiceless, that understanding ear to really listen, and the eyes that see the true reality of the damaged child.
I leave this with all of you today.
If you see something, SAY SOMETHING
If you feel that there is something happening in a child’s life, ask the questions.
Be the person that steps up for our youth. You may just save a life.
Let’s also push for more education on this important topic, and fight for getting our children the Mental Health programming that they need to feel supported. If we can accomplish that, then maybe our children can have a chance to overcome such disabilities.
THEY DID NOT ASK FOR THIS MESS!
The time is now to step up and step in. What are you willing to do for the children in your community?
Will you be the voice that sets them free?