Symptoms resulting from trauma can make school difficult. Two teenagers share what they want teachers to know about how trauma and mental health issues impact them at school.
Trauma symptoms vary from child to child. This can make it challenging for teachers to know how to best support students. According to traumaawareschools.org, “Symptoms resulting from trauma can directly impact a student’s ability to learn. Students might be distracted by intrusive thoughts about the event that prevents them from paying attention in class, studying, or doing well on a test. Exposure to violence can lead to decreased IQ and reading ability. Some students might avoid going to school altogether.”
My two daughters are adopted from foster care. They endured significant childhood trauma before coming to my home. They both struggled in school at times as a result. Now that they’re older and in college, I asked them both what they want teachers to know about teenagers who suffered from childhood trauma. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Sometimes I just feel anxious or depressed and I don’t have a concrete reason why.
“Sometimes teachers or the principal would ask me why I was sad or stressed. I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders. Sometimes there’s not a reason why I feel bad. I just do.”
2. It’s my story to tell and I get to decide when, how and to who.
“I’ve had teachers tell other students or my other teachers that I’m adopted or that I get anxious. Unless I ask them for help explaining my situation to someone else, I want to be the one who decides how my information is shared. You may have heard me talk openly about it in the past, but that doesn’t mean I want to right now or to that particular person.”
3. I am uncomfortable being the center of attention.
“I would rather miss a whole day of school than walk in late and have everyone’s eyes on me. If I need to leave or enter in the middle of class please try not to call more attention to me.”
4. Some days are harder than others.
“One day I might be outgoing and confident, and the next I might be afraid to say ‘here’ when attendance is called. I do really well for long chunks of time and then all of a sudden, I have a tough time without knowing why.”
5. I’ve had bad experiences with authority figures and I’m afraid when I think you might be upset.
”In 5th grade, I raced another girl to get to a seat and she fell. The teacher called us to her desk and I was so scared I couldn’t move. I wasn’t being defiant or disrespectful. I just shut down because I thought I was in trouble and that something bad was going to happen to me, even though the teacher had always been nice.”
6. I am tired because I have insomnia.
“So many teachers have lectured me about going to bed earlier or staying off my phone at night when they notice I’m tired. I have insomnia. I have a really hard time falling asleep and I often have nightmares when I do. I’m not purposefully staying up late. I’m exhausted all the time and really wish I could sleep better.”
7. I fight really hard to keep my fears under control at school.
“If I look zoned out, I’m probably just trying to tune out triggers. Loud noises like fire alarms, other students talking about scary movies, knowing I have to give a speech in my next class, seeing a fight break out in between classes…these are all things that might trigger my PTSD. Sometimes I need to zone out so I don’t have an anxiety attack at school, which would then give me another thing to become anxious about.”
8. It’s really hard for me to ask for help.
“It’s really hard for me to advocate for myself. If I don’t understand something or need more time on an assignment, it is almost impossible for me to speak up sometimes.”
9. I hate that I’m frequently absent.
“Sometimes I get so anxious about tests or projects at school I have panic attacks and need to stay home. Then, I get so stressed I’m missing school and worried about falling more behind, I become even more anxious and have an even harder time going to school. I wish it was all easier for me.”.
10. I’m doing my best.
“Bad stuff happened to me and I struggle with mental health issues as a result. I work hard with my doctors, therapists and parents to deal with it. Some days, it’s just really hard, but I’m doing the best I can.”
My daughters graduated high school last year and just wrapped up their first semesters at college. Fortunately, they both had some amazingly supportive teachers and are doing well at college. They still sometimes struggle due to their childhood trauma, but they’ve become more open and comfortable talking about it. As a result, they’ve found they are far from alone. They like sharing their experiences to help other kids who had the same experiences as them. I’m a very proud mom.