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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after someone has a traumatic or terrifying event in which physical or emotional harm was experienced, threatened, or witnessed.

People of any age can have PTSD. It can occur as a sudden, short-term response (called acute stress disorder) or develop gradually and become chronic or persistent.

Causes of PTSD may include:

  • violent assaults
  • physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • fires or natural disasters
  • automobile accidents
  • senseless acts of violence, such as school or neighborhood shootings
  • serious physical injuries or life-threatening medical illnesses
  • witnessing another person go through these kinds of traumatic events

PTSD also can occur after the unexpected or violent death of a family member or close friend, or following serious harm or threat of death or injury to a loved one. Survivor guilt (feeling guilty after surviving an event in which someone died) also might be a component of PTSD.

Students with PTSD may:

  • seem irritable, anxious, cranky, or angry
  • seem detached or depressed
  • have problems paying attention or concentrating
  • have trouble eating or sleeping
  • may startle easily or be overly sensitive to noises, sights, or smells that remind them of the traumatic event
  • avoid people, places, things, or activities that remind them of the event
  • take medication to treat anxiety
  • miss class time to talk with school counselors or mental health specialists
  • need additional time to complete class work

What Teachers Can Do

Students with PTSD may not recognize the link between their symptoms and the trauma they experienced. PTSD usually requires help from a mental health professional experienced in treating the disorder. It may be helpful for students to talk with family, friends, teachers, or a school counselor, when and if they feel ready.

Students with PTSD need time to begin to feel better and to learn to manage their anxiety. Avoid overloading them with homework or things that can add to their stress. Be supportive and allow students to practice relaxation techniques when appropriate.

Encourage students with PTSD to talk with a school counselor when symptoms arise.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014