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40% of Students Exposed to Traumatic Stress

According to a recent article by Greater Good Magazine “Data suggests that, on average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, close to 40 percent of students in the U.S. has been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives, with sexual assault, physical assault, and witnessing domestic violence being the three most prevalent.”

Fortunately, we can use trauma-informed learning tools to help! Visit our online course for more information for your child and your school: http://TraumaToolbox.com 

This is a free course and open to all stakeholders in your community. We are developing new courses in fall 2018. Take online quizzes, get downloadable reports, watch multimedia lessons and much more. Go now!

Healing the Special Needs Child

Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”

Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!

Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).

Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)

One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.

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It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.

Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.

School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.

It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.

Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.

Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.

Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.

Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.

Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.

None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.

calm

Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.

Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!

Healing Strategies for Hurt Children (and adults)

The four-fold strategy for healing hurt children includes:

  1. Calm Down The Body/Brain
  2. Elevate Executive Functioning Skills
  3. Rewrite Our Narratives
  4. Deepen Our Inner/Outer Connections. 

This is a holistic approach that is “Bottom Up / Top Down /and Spiritual Surround”

Calming down the body and brain is necessary for the thinking brain to come online. When the nervous system is in a “fight or flight” response to stress, either real or perceived, the body will work to protect itself from harm. This is important if you step into the line of traffic and a car is speeding toward you. You don’t have time to pull out your phone and do a web search on “best ways to avoid being hit by a car.” Your body/brain system will do this for you without conscious thought. We have an amazing brain that can operate under very difficult situations that would be too overwhelming or painful to process all at once. This skill doesn’t serve us well, however, when it trauma is continually triggered at work, school, or home. In those situations, the emotional brain hijacks the thinking brain and dysregulation occurs.

Elevating the executive functioning skills is a misunderstood problem when working with a hurt child. Executive skills are centered in the prefrontal area of the brain (behind the forehead and eyes) and perform emotional regulation, self-control, planning and organization, working memory, and moral reasoning. These are areas that are naturally underdeveloped in children. In traumatized children, there is a dramatic delay that decreases brain size and disconnects signals needed to use these skills. Healing strategies will “practice” these skills in a playful format.

Re-writing life narratives is the third healing strategies. Trauma wants to interpret our identity and produce negativity in our hearts and homes. A hurting child will re-act out hurt on others and the world around them because this is how they see themselves. A new, more positive and accurate worldview is needed. Adults are the co-authors who modeling heightened awareness of thoughts and emotions and call out the child’s true identity.

Deepening inner and outer connections are not just the final goal of healing strategies. It is also where we start. The support of loving parents and professionals is needed because the work cannot be done in isolation. Negativity can be controlled in the “atmosphere” of the home even when it cannot be managed in the child. When the home is too cold or hot, the temperature can be adjusted to improve the general mood. Deep expression of compassion for self and others open the heart for healing. Additionally, spiritual practices, such as forgiveness, release the pain that blocks intimacy in our relationships.

Get more information on keynote addresses and trauma-informed training on “Healing Strategies for Hurt Children” by contacting Ron Huxley at 805-709-2023 or rehuxley@gmail.com.

Grounding Exercises

Grounding exercises are short, simple techniques that focus attention and distract from intense emotions.

They often involve focusing on environmental stimuli or pleasant, calming topics or objects.

They can usually be done with minimal equipment, such as a pen and paper, or nothing at all except one’s thoughts and imaginations.

Therefore they are versatile exercises that can be performed anywhere.

Grounding exercises quiet down extreme emotions and help survivors of trauma shift to a more rational form of thinking.

People with trauma will, from time to time, experience high stress or emotional overload.

This is true for people with acute trauma, complex trauma, even traumatic grief.

The goal is not to eradicate feelings of intense anxiety, sadness, or anger. Instead, learning how to respond to those emotions, in the moment, is key to our healing.

In the video above you will learn 5 powerful Grounding Exercises:

Item Listing

The 54321 Game

Task Visualization

The Method of Loci

The 5 Senses Technique

It’s always best to have multiple grounding techniques in your toolbox.

What works best for one stressful situation (a trauma flashback, for example) might not work best in another (such as prior to a job interview).

A technique that you use frequently may become less effective over time. It is best to use a variety of techniques to avoid becoming acclimated to them.

Some grounding exercises may not be a good fit for your temperament.

For example, some people find the Ice Cream Technique frustrating because they get stuck and can’t remember any additional flavor examples.

Other people find the 54321 Game unhelpful because it can draw attention toward unpleasant feelings or sights in their environment.

For each technique, there are modifications to help expand their usefulness. But some techniques might just not be for you.

Get more tools for your Trauma Toolbox at http://www.TraumaToolbox.com/

Looking for a speaker on Trauma-Informed care for your next workshop, conference, or event? Contact Ron Huxley for more information at rehuxley@gmail.com

 

The Emotionally Regulated Classroom

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It’s been reported that one out of every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect their learning and/or behavior. Educators need the right information, with the right tools, to be prepared at the right time.

When children have experienced chronic and pervasive trauma, their thinking skills are literally hijacked by their emotional brain, shutting down their ability to focus, initiate tasks, follow directions, organize work, and control impulses. Everything a child needs to be successful in school.

The Emotionally Regulated Classroom:

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Educators can model emotional self-regulation for their students.

They can demonstrate how to notice, name, and respond to intense feelings instead of reacting to them. Doing so, will build resilience within and beyond the classroom.

Educators can use classroom design to prepare a space that promotes self-regulation. Classrooms should, generally, be well organized, clean, well-labeled, and provide resources for overwhelmed students.

Many of the principles and techniques used to interact with students with trauma are broadly applicable to conversations with all students.

Clear, assertive, comfortable communication can establish trust and provide structure.

However, it is important for educators to realize that the emotional and social needs of students with trauma are different.

Students should be made aware, in a clear, specific fashion, what their teachers and staff expect of them.

School discipline policies should be communicated at the beginning of the year to all students, faculty, and staff, and should be consistently described.

Allowing students an opportunity to inquire about, and even challenge, rules, will increase their sense of procedural justice.

If students perceive the procedures as basically transparent and fair, they are more likely to go along with an individual decision or policy they do not agree with.

Regulation Strategies for the Classroom:

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One strategy to regulated the classroom is called “Two Before Me.”

In a group discussion, a student may initially speak up whenever they have the opportunity & are called on.

However, after speaking, a student must wait for at least two other people to speak before they can raise their hand or contribute again.

This prevents conversations from being dominated by a limited few people and can reduce conflict/arguments.

Another strategy is the “Suggestion Box.”

Students with trauma often find it scary to communicate their needs or express displeasure.

Students who have been neglected may not be used to identifying or sharing needs at all.

To encourage these students to express their needs, supply them with a suggestion box or cubby hole in a circumspect place in your classroom.

Set aside a weekly or monthly time where the contents of the box are discussed or provide written answers to students concerns on a bulletin board.

You can name this box something other than a suggestion box. Perhaps call it a comment box or question box or come up with a name the class decides together. Remind students that it is OK to write feelings they are uncomfortable to say out loud as long as the feeling is not directed at a specific person, or intended to cause harm.

In the “Ouch/Oops” strategy,  the classroom learns how to manage hurt feelings and resolve conflicts.

If your class adopts this rule, anyone is free to say “Ouch” if something a peer or teacher says rubs them the wrong way.

For example, if someone said something hurtful, accusatory, or generally offensive, the person who caused the “Ouch” is required to say “Oops”. It is then up to the person who said “Ouch” to determine how the conflict should be resolved, like having a private discussion or a mediation with the teacher or other peers.

Educators will need to watch for misuses of this strategy, such as a student using “Ouch” frequently to derail a conversation or target a disliked peer. Also, students may “Ouch” something benign a teacher says that they don’t like, such as assignment due date. And students may refuse to respond with an “Oops” if there are no firm rules on it.

If necessary, educators may want to restrict this strategy to personal discussions to prevent misuse.  Generally speaking, older students are somewhat more likely to use “Ouch/Oops” strategy correctly but with some practice, it can be a useful regulation tool for all ages.

References:

GET MORE Trauma-Informed Tools by contacting Ron Huxley at rehuxley@gmail.com for a consultation or in-services at your next event or conference. Click here for more information. 

Parents: The Source of Children’s Re-sources

 

Children must have a source of satisfaction and security in order for them to re-source their ability to manage themselves and their emotions. A positive parental source responds to a child’s need and satisfies it. This cycle of distress and restoration builds trust, security, and connection. Fortunately, parents only have to be “good enough”. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child. There are many opportunities in parenting to prove you are a trustworthy “source” of support. This gives children the chance to “re-source” that support in themselves.

Abused Children Similar to War Vets

Children who have been abused or witnessed violence suffer similar trauma to war veterans…

LONDON (Reuters) ­ Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.

Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain areas ­­ the anterior insula and the amygdala ­­ which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats. This suggests that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyper­aware” of danger in their environment, the researchers said. “Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.