I started training school staff and advisory teams around understanding children who had experienced trauma over ten years ago. It was something that grew naturally out of my years as a teacher and then as an experienced play therapist and clinical supervisor. For schools, it was a new concept and back then I was very much a lone voice. At that time most people were still talking about Emotional Literacy and some nearer the front of the curve, were getting their heads around Attachment.
Over the last decade and the last few years particularly, there has been an explosion in the ‘popularity’ of trauma awareness. Everyone and his dog is a proud ‘trauma informed’ practitioner/ professional / school. (The dogs, it should be said, didn’t need as much training as the people ;-))
So how is it then, that with the great shift in our cultural acceptance of ‘mental health’ and embracing the crucial fact that we need to understand trauma, be properly informed around what it is, the impact it has and really take it seriously, that a little boy age 7 is in his second month of medication?
Let me explain. One of my consultations recently was precious time with a Mum. She is one of the Mum’s that really care about their kids and genuinely want the best for them. A mum who is prepared to do more than lip service and willing to look at the bigger picture, honestly. She wanted to see if I could help with her son’s new diagnosis of ADHD, and what, if anything could support him, because she wasn’t truly thrilled to have her 7 yr old on 2 different meds daily.
The story of his journey from (let’s call him…) Sonny, to a ‘boy with ADHD’ was pretty typical. Issues first raised when he was at nursery, concern from teachers and Sencos throughout KS1. Ed Psyche. EHCP. CAMHS assessment – diagnosis, oh, and then a mere 6 sessions of ‘therapeutic creative arts’ with a charity. His presenting symptoms were pretty standard; hyperactive, struggles to sit down, avoidant of work, buzzy, blurting out, happy on his gameboy, low self-esteem etc.
The point that truly shocked me in all this, is this: In the conversations (across 3 different schools) with the 6 teachers he had from nursery to now, and the SENCOs, the Ed Psyche, the CAMHS worker and the creative arts ‘therapist’, not ONE of them mentioned to her that all his behaviours might also be a result of early and complex childhood trauma.
Didn’t they know his full life history?
Yes, they did.
Apparently mum had been as open and honest with all of them as she was with me. They knew about the multiple things that had happened in the past and the current, significant family situation that was still on going. Not one person saw the link to complex childhood developmental trauma. Not one person saw his behaviour and functioning ability as a very understandable and normal result of a nervous system that had been totally overwhelmed multiple times in his short time on this earth.
We need to do better.
We can do better.
Sonny has been through ‘the system’. I fully understand that this system is at breaking point and in it’s own state of overwhelm. I also know all the grown-ups within this system care and want the best for these precious kids. But for a little boy to come through without one person truly asking and grasping ‘what’s happened to you?’ seems to me broken. For so many professionals to be part of his story and invest time in his case but not yet truly ‘see’ him feels all kinds of sad.
We need to do better.
We can do better.
This is not ‘trauma informed’ care. For a little boy to be on meds, and working on adjusting his 7 year old self-identity around a label that may last him the rest of his life, but may well not be accurate, is, to me, not OK. This kind of thing was going on as standard 10-15 years ago. I thought we were past this.
TO BRING CHANGE
To change the trajectory of the mental health crisis in our teens and older children, we need to start to truly honour and respect the impact of life experiences on a little person’s brain and body. We need to stop automatically seeing fidgeting, buzz-iness, needing to move and reluctance to write as ADHD (I know there’s more to it – I’m being brief on purpose).
There is a current move in education to encourage people to stop seeing children just as their labels. It is damaging to them and potentially misses their real unique needs. I wholeheartedly agree. However, I would suggest their real and biggest need is being seen and understood correctly in the first place.
In case you are wondering, I helped Mum become ‘informed’ about the impact of childhood trauma… it made complete sense and resonated deeply with her. She cried with relief that finally someone got it.
Claire Wilson is a trauma therapist and consultant. Her first book GROUNDED – Understanding the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour, is widely acclaimed by teachers, parents and therapists in the UK and around the world. She was one of the first to bring the understanding and application of Polyvagal Theory to the UK. Claire’s TEDx talk is a great resource for anyone who cares about mental health. Both can be found at www.groundedgrownups.com