Trauma Causes Students to Struggle in Grade Levels As Young As Kindergarten

As we have found in many of the schools we consult with, children who have identified struggles are often diagnosed with a number of possible labels because of their problems in learning or behavior. 

Trauma in early years linked to learning issues as child grows

bigstock_Abused_Child_5332554In this article by Nicole Gorman, (Education World) trauma is cited as one cause of significant issues we are discovering in some of our children. It is important for us to recognize the impact of trauma on our children so we can understand and provide the most appropriate and effective help for their needs.

Researchers from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J. released the findings of a study that indicates children who have experienced trauma will begin to struggle in class in grades as young as kindergarten.

“A study of more than 1,000 urban children showed those with difficult experiences up until age 5 had math and reading difficulties and difficulty focusing in kindergarten, and were also more likely to have social problems and to be aggressive toward others,” said HealthDay.

For children who suffer from early adversity during the crucial years of development before age five, problems with learning and behaving can manifest themselves in the student’s first years of schooling.

“…the researchers found children with at least three adverse childhood experiences had 80 percent greater odds of having math, language and literacy skills below average than children with no childhood difficulties,” the article said.

And “[children with at least three tough experiences were more than three times more likely to have attention problems and almost three times more likely to have social problems. Their odds of showing aggression were also more than double those of children without adverse childhood experiences.”

A traumatized child’s focus is on survival, not learning

The child who has experienced the trauma is more likely to devote energy to coping and surviving as opposed to learning in school, and in order to avoid yet-to-be-determined long-term effects, the child needs immediate support.

“One of the first steps to reducing the negative impact of traumatic events on children is to increase awareness about how it can affect development,” said Mayra Mendez, program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, CA to HealthDay.

The issue of what exact obligation schools have to providing treatment for trauma is currently a hot-button issue.

In California, the matter is a legal issue.

A group of eight students and teachers are currently in the process of suing Compton Unified School District for failing to provide proper resources for the district’s students to deal with trauma.

Despite a majority of the district’s students being exposed to complex trauma in the past or present, the students allege that they are punished for absences and behavioral issues rather than supported.

And in June, a paper from D.C. Children’s Law Center released several suggestions for how schools should best address trauma for the benefit of all students affected.

In D.C. schools, where low-income areas mean many students are susceptible to trauma, the paper recommends a better training of school staff to address how trauma works, a safer environment for students, and a decreasing reliance on suspension and expulsions to punish non-violent behavior.

Struggling children want to succeed

So many of our children are really trying to succeed, but they struggle due to being impacted by trauma. We need to be committed to helping them succeed. One way is to help our kindergarten teachers to be trauma-informed which ensures they are better equipped to help our children with many needs.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


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