June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month

By Jessica Hamblen, PhD and Erin Barnett, PhD, for PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Children and Adolescents Experience PTSD, Too

What events cause PTSD in children?

Any life threatening event or event that threatens physical harm can cause PTSD. These events may include:

  • Sexual abuse or violence (does not require threat of harm)
  • Physical abuse
  • Natural or manmade disasters, such as fires, hurricanes, or floods
  • Violent crimes such as kidnapping or school shootings
  • Motor vehicle accidents such as automobile and plane crashes

PTSD can also occur after witnessing violence. These events may include exposure to:

  • Community violence
  • Domestic violence
  • War

Finally, in some cases learning about these events happening to someone close to you can cause PTSD.

What are the risk factors for PTSD?

Both the type of event and the intensity of exposure impact the degree to which an event results in PTSD. For example, in one study of a fatal sniper attack that occurred at an elementary school proximity to the shooting was directly related to the percentage of children who developed PTSD. Of those children who directly witnessed the shooting on the playground, 77% had moderate to severe PTSD symptoms, whereas 67% of those in the school building at the time and only 26% of the children who had gone home for the day had moderate or severe symptoms (6).

In addition to exposure variables, other risk factors include:

  • Female gender
  • Previous trauma exposure
  • Preexisting psychiatric disorders
  • Parental psychopathology
  • Low social support

Parents have been shown to have protective factors (practice parameters). Both parental support and lower levels of parental PTSD have been found to predict lower levels of PTSD in children.

There is less clarity in the findings connecting PTSD with ethnicity and age. While some studies find that minorities report higher levels of PTSD symptoms, researchers have shown that this is due to other factors such as differences in levels of exposure. It is not clear how a child’s age at the time of exposure to a traumatic event affects the occurrence or severity of PTSD. While some studies find a relationship, others do not. Differences that do occur may be due to differences in the way PTSD is expressed in children and adolescents of different ages or developmental levels.

 

Keystone recognizes June as PTSD month in support of the children we serve who work to manage PTSD.

As in adults, PTSD in children and adolescence requires the presence of re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing, and arousal symptoms. However, researchers and clinicians are beginning to recognize that PTSD may not present itself in children the same way it does in adults.

 What does PTSD look like in children?

Criteria for PTSD include age-specific features for some symptoms.

Elementary school-aged children

Clinical reports suggest that elementary school-aged children may not experience visual flashbacks or amnesia for aspects of the trauma. However, they do experience “time skew” and “omen formation,” which are not typically seen in adults.

Time skew refers to a child mis-sequencing trauma-related events when recalling the memory. Omen formation is a belief that there is a belief that there were warning signs that predicted the trauma. As a result, children often believe that if they are alert enough, they will recognize warning signs and avoid future traumas.

School-aged children also reportedly exhibit post-traumatic play or reenactment of the trauma in play, drawings, or verbalizations. Post-traumatic play is different from reenactment in that post-traumatic play is a literal representation of the trauma, involves compulsively repeating some aspect of the trauma, and does not tend to relieve anxiety.

An example of post-traumatic play is an increase in shooting games after exposure to a school shooting. Post-traumatic reenactment, on the other hand, is more flexible and involves behaviorally recreating aspects of the trauma (e.g., carrying a weapon after exposure to violence).

Adolescents and Teens

PTSD in adolescents may begin to more closely resemble PTSD in adults. However, there are a few features that have been shown to differ. As discussed above, children may engage in traumatic play following a trauma. Adolescents are more likely to engage in traumatic reenactment, in which they incorporate aspects of the trauma into their daily lives. In addition, adolescents are more likely than younger children or adults to exhibit impulsive and aggressive behaviors.

Besides PTSD, what are the other effects of trauma on children?

Besides PTSD, children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic events often exhibit other types of problems. Perhaps the best information available on the effects of traumas on children comes from a review of the literature on the effects of child sexual abuse.

In this review, it was shown that sexually abused children often have problems with fear, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, aggression, sexually inappropriate behavior, self-destructive behavior, feelings of isolation and stigma, poor self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, substance abuse, and sexual maladjustment.

These problems are often seen in children and adolescents who have experienced other types of traumas as well. Children who have experienced traumas also often have relationship problems with peers and family members, problems with acting out, and problems with school performance.

Along with associated symptoms, there are a number of psychiatric disorders that are commonly found in children and adolescents who have been traumatized. One commonly co-occurring disorder is major depression. Other disorders include substance abuse; anxiety disorders such as separation anxiety, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder; and externalizing disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivitiy disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder.

How is PTSD treated in children and adolescents?

Although some children show a natural remission in PTSD symptoms over a period of a few months, a significant number of children continue to exhibit symptoms for years if untreated. Trauma Focused psychotherapies have the most empirical support for children and adolescents.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Research studies show that CBT is the most effective approach for treating children. The treatment with the best empirical evidence is Trauma-Focused CBT (TF-CBT). TF-CBT generally includes the child directly discussing the traumatic event (exposure), anxiety management techniques such as relaxation and assertiveness training, and correction of inaccurate or distorted trauma related thoughts.

Although there is some controversy regarding exposing children to the events that scare them, exposure-based treatments seem to be most relevant when memories or reminders of the trauma distress the child. Children can be exposed gradually and taught relaxation so that they can learn to relax while recalling their experiences. Through this procedure, they learn that they do not have to be afraid of their memories.

CBT also involves challenging children’s false beliefs such as, “the world is totally unsafe.” The majority of studies have found that it is safe and effective to use CBT for children with PTSD.

CBT is often accompanied by psycho-education and parental involvement. Psycho-education is education about PTSD symptoms and their effects. It is as important for parents and caregivers to understand the effects of PTSD as it is for children. Research shows that the better parents cope with the trauma, and the more they support their children, the better their children will function. Therefore, it is important for parents to seek treatment for themselves in order to develop the necessary coping skills that will help their children.

Parent Resource: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs PTSD: National Center for PTSD

Psychiatrist Joins Keystone to Provide Medication Management

Beginning April 4, psychiatrist Chadd K. Eaglin, M.D., joins Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics as our new medical director in charge of medication management. He will work with our team of providers to develop a comprehensive plan for your child to assist your family and primary care physicians.

Chadd Eaglin, M.D., psychiatrist, becomes Keystone’s medical director, with appointments beginning on April 4.

Depending on the specific concerns and/or diagnoses that a child may have, such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression or other behavioral issues, a course of medication in combination with other therapy techniques may be helpful. Keystone’s team works collaboratively in diagnosing, monitoring and treating any issues or concerns that parents may have about their child, consulting to determine whether medication may be helpful. If medication is determined to be helpful, Dr. Eaglin will prescribe and closely monitor the effects.

It is important for a child to have regular medical checkups to monitor how well the medication is working and check for possible side effects. Most side effects can be relieved by changing the medication dosage, adjusting the schedule of medication or using a different stimulant or trying a non-stimulant.

Staying in close contact with Dr. Eaglin will ensure that Keystone therapists and parents find the best medication and dose for their children. After that, periodic monitoring by Dr. Eaglin is important to maintain the best effects.

Dr. Eaglin comes to Keystone with 11 years of education and experience in medicine and psychiatry. He received an M.D. from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine and completed his psychiatry residency training program at the University of Hawaii. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with specialty training in NeuroStar Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy. He focuses on diagnosis, treatment and management of patients from school-aged children to geriatrics who have mood disorders, anxiety disorders, impulse control orders, autism and complex behavioral challenges.

For now, Dr. Eaglin will be available by appointment each Tuesday morning, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. The goal is to build his caseload to a full time practice with Keystone. To set an appointment, call 904.619.6071 or fill out the online Appointments form.

Keystone Provides Medication Management

483a2560-1-copy
Keystone medical director Dr. Tammy Tran monitors heart rate and blood pressure of one of children to determine the effectiveness and the medication he is taking.

When needed, we can prescribe and monitor the medications recommended for your child, while also making sure that they are effective and interacting with other medications safely. Tammy Tran, M.D., Keystone’s medical director, works as part of our team of providers to develop a group plan for each child to assist families and primary care physicians. The team works collaboratively in diagnosing, monitoring and treating any issues or concerns that you may have about your child, consulting with Dr. Tran to determine whether medication may be helpful for your child. If appropriate, Dr. Tran will prescribe and closely monitor the effects.

It may take some time to find the best medication, dosage, and schedule for your child. Your child may need to try different types of stimulants or other medication. Some children respond to one type of stimulant but not another. The amount of medication (dosage) that your child needs also may need to be adjusted. The dosage is not based solely on your child’s weight. Dr. Tran will vary the dosage over time to get the best results and control possible side effects. The medication schedule also may be adjusted depending on the target outcome. For example, if the goal is to get relief from symptoms mostly at school, your child may take the medication only on school days.

It is important for your child to have regular medical checkups to monitor how well the medication is working and check for possible side effects.

What Side Effects Can Stimulants Cause?

Side effects occur sometimes. These tend to happen early in treatment and are usually mild and short-lived, but in rare cases they can be prolonged or more severe. The most common side effects include:

  • Decreased appetite/weight loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Social withdrawal

Some less common side effects include:

  • Rebound effect (increased activity or a bad mood as the medication wears off)
  • Transient muscle movements or sounds called tics
  • Minor growth delay

Very rare side effects include:

  • Significant increase in blood pressure or heart rate
  • Bizarre behaviors

Most side effects can be relieved by:

  • Changing the medication dosage
  • Adjusting the schedule of medication
  • Using a different stimulant or trying a non-stimulant

Staying in close contact with Dr. Tran will ensure that Keystone therapists and you find the best medication and dose for your child. After that, periodic monitoring by Dr. Tran is important to maintain the best effects. To monitor the effects of the medication, Dr. Tran will probably have you and your child’s teacher(s) fill out behavior rating scales; observe changes in your child’s target goals; notice any side effects; and monitor your child’s height, weight, pulse, and blood pressure.

Common diagnoses that typically benefit from medication:

  • ADHD
  • Tic disorder, such as Tourette syndrome
  • Anxiety disorders

Resources for Parents/Caregivers:

NIH National Institute of Mental Health: Treatment of Children with Mental Illness

ADHD Parents Medication Guide prepared by American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association

ADAA Anxiety and Depression Association of America

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month

national-epilepsy-monthKeystone Behavioral Pediatrics’ Neuropsychological Assessment Clinic, led by co-directors Rea Anne A. Romero, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, and Rebecca J. Penna, Ph.D., NCSP, neuropsychologist and clinical psychologist, provides comprehensive evaluation of brain functions and processes. The neuropsychological approach is particularly useful for individuals who have experienced a brain injury or other medical conditions that impact the central nervous system, such as epilepsy, as well as other complex clinical conditions that impact the way a person thinks and learns. Following the assessment, a profile of the individual’s processing strengths and needs is developed, which guides treatment, rehabilitation and educational planning.

Parents of children with seizures have a special role.

The national Epilepsy Foundation acknowledges the following critical roles that parents of children with seizures play in their children’s lives:

  1. You are parents and the primary caregivers of your young children. You are the one giving information to the health care team and the primary one working with schools, camps, or other community groups. You are staying up at night worrying, or caring for your child during and after seizures. You want them to stay safe, but may have to balance this with how to let them be kids, and develop independence.
  2. You are a manager. You need to manage your young child’s epilepsy. As your child grows, you need to teach him or her how to manage his epilepsy. If your adult child can’t manage their epilepsy on their own, you may need to continue in the manager role or find someone else or an agency (for example a group home or agency overseeing your child’s care) to manage their care.
  3. You are an advocate. You may have to advocate for your child to get the care they need, to get an appropriate education and any necessary accommodations, and to have their rights respected.
  4. You are an educator. You have to educate so many people (as well as yourself) about epilepsy and how to treat and respond to your child. You want your child to be treated just like anyone else, but this may take work over the years.
  5. You are also a “patient.” Epilepsy affects the whole family – the person with seizures, parents, siblings, grandparents, and more. How it affects you will be different than how it affects the child, other children in the family, or your parents. But it will affect you. As a patient, you’ll have needs too and would benefit from information and support to help you.

Epilepsy and seizures are tough for children and families to bear. It might feel like more than you can handle on your own. Luckily, you don’t have to. Keystone can assess and evaluate your child to provide an individualized treatment and education planning.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has become a successful way to help people through a variety of problems. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, or anger (or more than one of these) in some people with epilepsy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is grounded in the belief that your thoughts guide your feelings and actions. To help your child manage feelings and change actions, we help your child first focus on changing thinking patterns. When your child learns how to focus on her own thoughts instead of outside events or other people, she can have more control over her progress and a greater chance of improving her life.

In many cases, epilepsy co-occurs with other developmental and behavioral issues, for example, autism. We can also provide specific recommendations that relate to educational placement and instructional strategies that can be shared with your child or adolescent’s school. This can include recommendations for testing accommodations (e.g., SAT) if indicated.

Jacksonville gifted children with special needs benefit from Keystone services

Though not often recognized as “special needs” students, gifted children require just as much attention and educational resources to thrive in school as do other students whose physical, behavioral, emotional or learning needs require special accommodations. They may benefit from mental health services and child behavior therapy.

Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics’ process for giftedness testing involves an initial consultation with a child psychologist that includes a detailed history. Gifted testing itself can range from an hour to several hours, but it typically completed in one visit. After the tests have been scored, interpreted and written up as a customized report, a psychologist will meet with parents/caregivers to explain the results and make specific recommendations for their child.

Gifted children face risks that many other groups do not face.

They may have difficulties in relating to both themselves and others. The self-esteem of exceptionally gifted students tends to be significantly lower than the self-esteem of average students, especially when they don’t have access to other gifted children.

As a group, gifted children show more perfectionist behaviors than other groups, and this creates potential difficulties. A significant number have moderate to severe levels of depression.

Gifted children may by “’twice-exceptional,” being both gifted and having a learning disability in an area such as written expression. Most frequently, gifted children may receive diagnoses of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Asperger’s Disorder, which may be accurate in some cases but misconstrued or misinterpreted in other cases.

Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics, located on the Southside in Jacksonville, Fla., offers a number of services that can help a gifted child grow in a positive manner and embrace success through change. Make an appointment to learn more.