Unfortunately, trauma is one of the biggest health crises effecting children and educators today. Whether you are a special education teacher, paraprofessional, therapist, or parent, it is a necessity to learn about trauma and integrate trauma informed practices into your classroom. Additionally, it will help to students regulate their emotions, increase sense of self-worth, strengthen relationships, increase student success, and cultivate an environment for growth!
What is Trauma?
According to Building Trauma Sensitive Schools, author, Susan E. Craig it is a distressing experience or set of experiences that threatens a person’s actual safety or perceived sense of felt safety to such a degree that it exceeds an individual’s capacity to cope in healthy ways. Furthermore, children who have been exposed to abuse or trauma may have difficulty regulating their emotions, more prone to anxiety and depression, struggle to build relationships, school or home refusal, and aggression.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests that at least 25% of American students have been impacted by trauma. This number has increased since the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A trauma -sensitive approach helps educators appreciate the fact that many of the troublesome, intractable behaviors observed in their students are related to overwhelming experiences of violence and other forms of relational trauma” (Craig, 2008).Craig, S. E. (2008). Reaching and teaching children who hurt: Strategies for your classroom. Brookes.
Unfortunately, recognizing trauma can be difficult. In part because physical, emotional, cognitive, and social signs vary. Additionally, it is very sensitive information. Importantly, observers must consider that a child who is displaying any of the below symptoms may be unrelated to trauma, but that as mandated reporters, teachers are on the frontlines in recognizing trauma. Furthermore, child, family, and medical history must all be considered if trauma is suspected. Teachers, families, and other mandated reporters should consider and document any changes to the child’s physical state, behavior, eating and sleeping habits, social skills, and overall demeanor.
Promoting Trauma Sensitive Classrooms
Importantly, trauma informed practices in special education aim to acknowledge the prevalence and effects of trauma and integrate that understanding into the ways we teach.
Trauma Informed Strategies:
- Predictable schedule and routine: download the Simply Special Ed schedule template
- Opportunities for self- regulation (Examples: breathing techniques, pressure, brain breaks)
- Fostering strong school/home partnerships
- Making the classroom a safe space
- Increasing student preference in content
- Limit exclusionary practices (Examples: sending student to the principal’s office, taking away incentives)
Self- Regulation Examples
Incorporating self-regulation strategies into the classroom teaches students the skills to work through and manage their emotions. To use these strategies, teachers should emphasize modeling how the tool is meant to be used.The below list details examples of self-regulation opportunities that will help students slow their minds and improve their focus.
- Simply Special Ed self-regulation tool kit
- Rainbow breathing
- Bubble breathing
- Choice/ reinforcement boards
- Movement input (squeeze machine, sensory path, trampoline)
- Built in breaks
- Visual timers
- Movement break
- Therapy animals/ interactive companion (affiliate link)