Whenever we hear Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, most of us think about individuals who have been in combat overseas. Did you know that children, even babies, can experience PTSD?
The month of June is PTSD Awareness Month and in honor of this month, I started to research symptoms and characteristics displayed in children who experience PTSD. As I was researching, I began to really think about my childhood and the fact that I experienced PTSD as a 2 year old after a severe dog bite.
Let me first explain that PTSD can result from an event such as:
- Experiencing physical or sexual abuse
- Witnessing domestic violence in the home
- Sustaining a severe injury
- Being involved in a serious accident
PTSD in a child will develop when the child believes that the event they experienced was life threatening or extremely dangerous, or when they respond to the event with intense fear, helplessness or horror. Now of course many children will experience reactions to these types of events. PTSD itself develops when the symptoms or reactions related to these events occur persistently for over a month.
A child experiencing PTSD will likely display symptoms such as:
- Re-experiencing the trauma
- Having nightmares
- Having ‘flashbacks”, feeling like they are going through the experience again
- Playing in a way that repeats the trauma
- Avoiding situations that make them recall the traumatic event – feeling nervous or anxious frequently
- ‘Blocking out’ the event…experiencing difficulty remembering it
- Increased Agitation
- Feeling constantly ‘on guard’, just in case the trauma occurs again
- Easily startled or frightened
- Difficulty concentrating on routine tasks
- Having outbursts or unprovoked or excessive anger
Personally, I do not have any memories of the traumatic event that I experienced. Everything that I know about the event today has been retold to me through my parents. What I do know is that before the event, I LOVED animals. In fact my parents were planning on getting a puppy for my second birthday because I loved dogs so much.
After the event, I froze whenever I came close to ANY animal. My parents would take me to the zoo and I would FREEZE in front of the flamingos. I was simply paralyzed. I could not move.
My parents went to a therapist to see how they could help me through the trauma. She recommended a type of exposure therapy, wherein I would incrementally be more and more exposed to a dog being near me. My great-grandfather and his poodle, Tootsie, moved in with us for a period of time. The therapist explained to my parents that when a child is terrified and struck with fear, they are not able to eat. The goal would be for me to be able to eat a meal with Tootsie sitting at the table with us.
It was a long struggle…this whole process started with Tootsie in the other room. I eventually made it to the point where I was able to eat with her sitting at the table with me, but my fear of dogs continued through my early teens. Anytime I would go to someone’s house I would ask if they had a dog. If I rang a doorbell and heard a dog bark, I would quickly turn around and walk away from the door until I knew that the dog was placed in another room where I would not be close to it. When I was 15 years old my family eventually got a dog of our own.
I am now a dog person, and a dog lover, however I still become a little hesitant or fearful when I see a larger dog approaching me. My daughter LOVES dogs. She loves when our 25 lb. dog Addie gives her kisses and licks her all over. She loves holding Addie’s leash when we take her on walks. In fact, she will go up to any dog, anywhere, and unless I hold her back, she would put her face right up in the dog’s face, expecting oodles and oodles of kisses from them.
I love that she loves dogs…but it does frighten me that you never know what a dog is going to do…I don’t experience flashbacks of the experience, however every now and again I will experience some stress or anxiety if I am around a dog that I don’t know.
Who knew that a traumatic event that I experienced before the age of 2 would still impact me all of these years later. 🙂