PTSD and the Pediatric Brain

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PTSD and the Pediatric Brain

What do you think it is like for a child to experience a very difficult and/or even a traumatic event? Many people think that children are resilient and will always bounce back. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines resilience as: capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. When a child is shocked, not only do they experience the effects of the stress response, but there is also an ongoing effect on all governing systems including the brain, the immune system, metabolism, and organ function. Their core sense of self is at risk.

What is PTSD?

PTSD was initially connected to the experiences from fighting in a war. War time is a terrifying event. Individuals that were serving in the military may experience horrific events. Think of a soldier that has been on the front lines shooting and seeing death and destruction all around. If this soldier is fortunate to return home, anything like a car backfiring can trigger a flashback which makes them feel like they are back in harm’s way.

Are Children Vulnerable to PTSD?

Children become vulnerable to PTSD whenever they experience or witness a traumatic event. If a child sees their parent hurt or killed. If the child witnesses a sexual assault. In our school-systems today children are practicing not only “fire drills”, but “shooting-drills”.  

Trauma can lead to emotional and behavioral reactions. The reactions can turn someone’s internal state into chaos and cause them to lose interest, feel afraid, experience unsettled emotions, and certainly experience difficulty paying attention and concentrating.

What Does PTSD Look Like in a Child?

There are known signs that indicate when you may want to see someone in order to have your child evaluated:

  • when chaos turns into intrusion
  • symptoms of unwanted and upsetting memories
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • emotional distress
  • avoidance
  • withdrawal
  • arousal
  • changes in school performance
  • flatness

In our very young children, their developmental stages demonstrate different responses to trauma. Their point of reference is different than older children. Their symptoms are not as obvious. Their actions may not appear distressing.  

Younger children demonstrate a heightened state of arousal in the following ways:

  • irritability
  • anger outbursts
  • temper tantrums
  • exaggerated startle response
  • jumpy
  • sleep problems
  • difficulty concentrating
  • developmental regression, like bed wetting
  • clinginess

The CMB Difference:

At CMB, we have a 3-tier approach to evaluate your child’s unique developmental story.

  1. Brain – A comprehensive approach through QEEG will identify how your child’s brain is wired from the bottom up;
  2. Chemistry – Evaluate your child’s internal biology through functional labs;
  3. Mechanical – A thorough assessment of your child’s developmental milestone acquisition. 

Trauma takes away a person’s sense of safety and stability. Trauma activates an area of the brain called the Amygdala, which is our chief officer that recognizes signals about fear and safety. In the Amygdala, memory is stored as a lived experience with feelings and physical sensations that may not connect the “story” in a logical way.  

During a traumatic event, the Amygdala alerts the Hypothalamus, a part of the brain that orchestrates the body’s stress response by producing hormones like cortisol. The body goes into fight-or-flight mode and critical thinking is hijacked. 

Trauma can change the body’s biology. Even after the trigger is gone, the Amygdala can hold onto the physical memory of trauma, and our bodies can get stuck in fight-or-flight mode.

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, evidence-based treatment that can encourage the brain back into a stable state.  Trauma disrupts the brain’s communication system, and the child can become “stuck”. Our QEEG brain map helps us determine when the patterns of brain waves are “stuck”. Our neurodevelopmental assessment identifies how we need to reconnect your child’s body back to them. We use these assessments together to help your child resolve the trauma, reconnect to themselves, and move forward.

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