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Childhood Trauma

PTSD and complex trauma



Psychological trauma results from exposure to one or more overwhelmingly stressful events. In one way or another, these events lead victims to feel an intense sense of danger and helplessness. Traumatic experiences fundamentally change the way one perceives the self, others and the world. 

Trauma can be debilitating for any person but children are particularly vulnerable. Kids often lack the maturity and emotional resilience to deal with such events. These experiences may disrupt a young person's development resulting in a range of difficulties regarding behaviour, emotions, social skills, cognition and school learning. 

The severity of trauma depends on number of factors, including the intensity, duration and frequency of the traumatic experience(s), personality features, social connections and support, and whether there are ongoing stressors in the child's life. 

PTSD vs complex trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be used to describe the set of symptoms that result from a single, life-threatening event (eg. a natural disaster or witnessing a fatal car accident). Complex PTSD or trauma may be assigned to victims of repeated or prolonged stress (eg. ongoing domestic violence and abuse). 

As you might suspect, symptoms of complex trauma tend to be more severe and harder to recover from. 

Signs and symptoms of childhood trauma 

  • Emotional regulation (tantrums, outbursts, anxiety, depression)
  • Behavioural regulation (irritable, hyperactive, aggression)
  • Social difficulties (withdrawal, inappropriate interactions)
  • Cognitive problems (memory issues, trouble concentrating)
  • Physical concerns (fatigue, aches and pains, poor sleep)
  • School difficulties (learning, motivation, falling behind peers)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm or suicidal tendencies

Assessment of childhood trauma

Many children who experience symptoms of PTSD will not require formal psychological testing. Instead, these individuals will benefit from psychotherapy for ongoing emotional support and recovery.

Children with more severe instances of PTSD and complex trauma may require a comprehensive psychological assessment. Clinical testing may be warranted once a child's symptoms of trauma have begun to interfere with daily life, and significant difficulties arise across several key domains (ie. behaviour, cognition, school learning, social skills and emotions).

The purpose of a psychological assessment for trauma is to identify the key areas of concern, as well as measure the child's abilities and functional capacity. This information is then used to inform a detailed and practical support plan. 

Some children with trauma develop what is referred to as a 'psychosocial disability'. Psychological reports may be used by caregivers as evidence of their child's psychosocial disability as part of their application for NDIS funding

Free Online Screening Test

The following questionnaire is suitable for caregivers of children with suspected PTSD.

PTSD symptoms scale (age 7-17 years)→


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