When School CAUSES Trauma

aubrey page school trauma Jun 29, 2021
by Aubrey Page, CEO

I have googled for a long time, but correct me if I just am a terrible google-r.

I cannot find discussion around the school CAUSING trauma.  When you look up school and trauma you get articles about how to provide trauma-informed care in an education setting. How to support the kids who aren't eating at home and the kids who have to sleep with one eye open.

Let's talk about the kids who have to go to school with one eye open.  The kids for whom school is the most dangerous place.  Why would school be like that?  What would cause that?

Children who should be eligible for special education services can be traumatized by school in the following ways:

- Not being identified and therefore being treated like a child who doesn't need support. Consistently failing at assignments and/or getting in trouble leading to a heightened vigilance or avoidance of assignments altogether.

- Being identified as a "behavior only" child when really the behavior is just the thing that is showing on the surface.  The child is not being TAUGHT any skills to learn how to engage with their peers in a healthier way, they are just tracked for how many times they don't comply.  No one asks why the child avoids any school work, they only assume it is defiance.  So often these kids struggle academically, but no one looks under the surface.

- Placed in an inappropriate setting.  Children who need support to be able to engage with their peers in a healthy manner, being kept in a classroom by themselves because it is easier to avoid behaviors than to address them.  Children who are so far behind academically that the school is not equipped to support them in an inclusion setting and yet there they sit, learning nothing and getting teased.

- Not supported socially.  When we have children with neurodiversity who say things that don't seem typical, often the teachers join in on the laughter that further isolates the student instead of setting an example of how to socially include a child who may say something different than expected.  Adults often don't set the tone that the child is a welcomed member of the community, leading to layers of rejection added to this child's trauma.

- Not accommodated.  Graphic organizers and filled in notes and read alouds.  Preferential seating and sensory breaks and required recess.  So often these things are removed from a child's education because they are too individualized.  While I empathize with a teacher having a classroom full of kids, this child will best succeed with these accommodations.  The team has agreed on that.  If the teacher can't make it happen, how is the team supporting the teacher to make it happen?

So. Imagine if you will. You go to work everyday and they tell you to find the cure for cancer. And you say...but I am not a doctor. And they say...I don't care, this is your job.  When you don't produce results, they chastise you and give you poor performance reviews.  In the cafeteria, they all sit together and look at you while saying words you can barely overhear like "doesn't fit in" and "so weird."  Imagine that every day.  Wouldn't that be traumatic?

When kids are not properly accommodated in school, they can very much experience complex trauma.  I parent teens and by the time my kids get to me, so much schooling trauma has happened it's hard to find the love of learning anymore.

What can we do as parents?
We can learn more about IEPs and what rights we have to advocate for our kids. We can push the school to provide what they need and require that they reframe how they see our kids. Not as "behaviors" but as "symptoms."

What can you do as an educator?
Be curious. What is the root of that behavior? What causes it?  Is there an academic need that this child has been so good at hiding? Hiding a need is a survival strategy.  How can you help them feel safe enough to show it?  Is there a social skill that needs to be taught to see this child better succeed in a school setting?  How can you advocate for them to learn it?

Check out this caregiver tip where I discuss this concept more in depth. And if you know of any articles or studies on this topic, please email them to me at [email protected].



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