Children who underachieve academically can do so as a result of traumatic experiences. “Mental health professionals and educators who are unaware of a child’s trauma history or its impact may aggravate the situation by holding a child to unrealistic expectations or misinterpreting the child’s symptoms as indicative of bad conduct or another disorder,” said researchers from George Mason University and the University of Florida. “For students, the results of academic underachievement reach beyond the educational setting, often leading to deviant behaviors, fewer opportunities in life, and difficulty earning a living wage.” Symptoms of trauma can be misinterpreted as behavior problems because they often manifest as aggression, irritability, or hyperactivity. Some children internalize their trauma and appear moody, depressed and anxious.
Rachael D. Goodman of George Mason University, and her colleagues, conducted a study to examine the link between socioeconomic status, trauma, and academic achievement in a group of fifth grade students. The team analyzed data collected from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class 1998-99, which contained evaluations of the children over a six year period. They found a direct correlation between socioeconomic status (SES) and traumatic stress. “Analysis of the data found that the percentage of students who met the criteria for traumatic stress generally decreased as SES increased: 16.1% of low-SES students had traumatic stress, 10.6% of mid–low SES students, 11.2% of mid-SES students, 8.1% of mid– high SES students, and 6.9% of high-SES students,” said Goodman.
Additionally, the children who experienced trauma had significantly lower test scores on standardized tests. The researchers also noticed that children with traumatic stress were more likely to need individualized educational plans (IEP). “Whereas only 8.6% of students without an IEP on file had traumatic stress, 23.4% of students with an IEP on file had traumatic stress.” The team hopes these findings will help professionals more accurately identify children with stress when they are referred for help. They concluded, “In response to requests from teachers or administrators to assist with such a student, counselors can screen for the presence of traumatic stress before moving to behavioral solutions to improve classroom behavior.”
Goodman, R. D., Miller, M. D., & West-Olatunji, C. A. (2011, August 22). Traumatic Stress, Socioeconomic Status, and Academic Achievement Among Primary School Students. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024912
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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