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What are Trauma Informed Schools?

Trauma-informed schools are places that provide safe and supportive environments for children to learn and educators to work. They infuse the science about trauma and its impacts into daily practice, program design, policy creation and implementation, and the culture of the school.


A trauma-informed school is not simply a school where staff know about trauma, or a school where there is a therapeutic classroom or additional counseling staff.


The Impact of Trauma on Students

Trauma can impact an individual in many ways, and an individual’s response to a traumatic event can vary. Circumstances of the event such as when, how, where, how often and the responses of others can impact an individual’s response. Children may experience symptoms related to brain development, learning and behavior — all of which impact academic success.

Potential impacts of trauma include, but are not limited to:
  • Cognitive and learning impacts;

  • Inability to concentrate or sit still;

  • Poor memory;

  • Zoning out in class;

  • Struggles with reading;

  • Increased days of school absence;

  • Lower-grade point average.

Physiological impacts include:
  • Chronic pain and somatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, vague aches and pains);

  • Muscle tension, trembling;

  • Increased sensitivity to sound;

  • Hyper alert — increased startle response.

Emotional impacts include:
  • Difficulty with mood regulation (mood swings);

  • Difficulty describing feelings, internal experiences, and needs and wishes;

  • Increased rates of depression, anxiety, hostility, and irritability;

  • Low self-esteem — feeling worthless, damaged, or self-blaming;

  • Frequently on guard — increased worries and fears about the safety of self and others.

Behavioral/relational impacts include:
  • Impulsiveness;

  • Increased anger outbursts and temper tantrums;

  • Increased need for control or perfection;

  • Excessive desire to please others;

  • Withdrawing;

  • Struggling to connect with others;

  • Aggression;

  • Difficulty establishing appropriate social boundaries;

  • Self-destructive behavior;

  • Repetitive violent play/art or repetitive, trauma-specific play/art;

  • Higher levels of self-harm;

  • Higher levels of eating disorders.

Neurological development impacts (Complex trauma) include:
  • Changes in brain development;

  • Overdevelopment of the limbic system (responsible for emotional reactions, survival skills, motivation, long-term memory);

  • Underdevelopment of frontal lobe (key to learning, decision-making).

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