adoption, family

Explaining PTSD in the Classroom

I really cannot explain why my kids do some of the things they do. Raising children who experienced developmental trauma in their biological homes is like navigating a corn maze while blind-folded. As parents, Luke and I just do our best to help the kids manage their stress responses.

I got an email from Carl’s math teacher this week. She’s lovely and has been concerned about him.  He’s been presenting as sad and agitated in class lately.  He will ace a pretest study guide and flunk the test on the following day. When I give him the exact problems at home one by one, he can easily explain them to me. He completes them perfectly.  Luckily, this teacher offers to stay after school and provide extra help. Then she lets him retake the test immediately for credit.

Look, our kids all have anxiety about things. I think the start they had in life manifests itself in different ways. Anxiety is sometimes a term people toss around as synonymous with “being nervous.” Wrong! It’s not something an individual can just “get over” by “calming down.” I explained Carl’s anxiety to the teacher like this:

“Carl looks at a paper and gets overwhelmed by the amount of work and “remembering” how to do it. Even when I see him easily do each problem. We’ve been taking his heart rate at different times of day to teach him about his body’s stress responses. It is part of teaching him to recognize and manage his anxiety.

Carl’s normal resting rate is 82 BPM. A panic attack puts him between 130-140 BPM. Math work registers around 110. Basically, he’s stressed that he doesn’t “know” the concept even when he clearly does.  

The anxiety could be coming out for lots of reasons. We don’t always know why Carl has certain responses. His reaction may have nothing to do with Math. He struggled to engage with a very helpful para earlier this year just because she has dark hair. If someone uses a new soap or cologne, he can react. On the outside it looks like anger, defiance and even sadness.

I just had back surgery and my husband has some more upcoming eye surgeries. Maybe that’s a source of anxiety. I don’t really know. The good news is that Carl is using his strategies in school. When he gets upset, he is taking his work down to the guidance office.

Also, his anxiety is not at a critical level because he’s been sleeping in his own bed rather than on the floor. When Carl and his siblings first came to us from foster care, none of them would sleep in a bed. They were terrified. They also stole food and hid it in their mattresses or buried it outside. These kids were scared of the entire world. After 5 years, Carl only sleeps on the floor if he feels scared or threatened. This week, I’m happy he’s been sleeping with his therapy dog on the bed!

The truth is that he will always have some unknown triggers. He may outwardly appear like every other student, but he’s overcome a lot. We just do our best to support him and teach him to handle his PTSD. It comes out in different, unpredictable, ways.

Much like a duck, you don’t see him paddling furiously beneath the surface. 

We cannot protect Carl from the world. What we try to do is help him gain the skills to navigate it. Teachers like you go the extra mile to help him. It may not seem like it but you’re helping him with more than Math. You are helping him learn to trust adults. Thank you!”

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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