Trauma & The Brain
July 3, 2018

How Does Trauma Affect The Brain?

Trauma causes the brain to function from the “survival center.” Trauma responses come from the autonomic nervous system. When students are faced with a perceived threat they will go into a flight, fight, or freeze response. These traumatic responses make it difficult for students to pay attention, engage in critical thinking, problem solve, and plan ahead because they are automatic survival responses, they are not planned, intentional, or controlled.

Students who struggle to maintain power. Labeled as non-compliant or aggressive.

Students who feel powerless, can’t or won’t speak up. Labeled as unmotivated. Students will shut down, put their head down, wear hoodie.

Students who want to escape. Labeled as disruptive, avoidant. Students will walk out of class, hide under desk, run.

How Does Trauma Affect Students At School?

Students who have experienced (or are currently experiencing) trauma may present with a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
  • Difficulty staying calm
  • Self-injurious behaviors
  • Anger or energy outbursts
  • Refusing to participate
  • Isolation or sadness
  • Apathy/Lack of focus
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Threats of aggression

When Will Students Show This Behavior?

Students may withdraw or act out when something triggers a memory of their trauma. These triggers can activate a student’s “survival center.” Common triggers include:

  • Unpredictability
  • Loss of control
  • Loneliness
  • Sudden changes or transitions
  • Confrontation or raised voice
  • Loud or chaotic environments
  • Restricted Movement/Restraint

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