Oklahoma, CASA for Children, Inc.

Impact of Childhood Trauma & Abuse: Sensitive Collaboration Between Schools & Clinicians

Child traumatic stress occurs when children and adolescents are exposed to traumatic events or traumatic situations, and when this exposure overwhelms their ability to cope with what they have experienced.

Children are strong and resilient and can cope with many things, but when severe traumas happen in a child's life it can cause a potential for derailment of development. Children have not yet developed a capacity to cope with something so overwhelming. It can cause a regression or stagnation in development. In order to resume typical development they need help to overcome. 

Traumatic stress can result from an event (acute) or repeated experience (chronic).

Type I: Acute Trauma

a. Experiencing a serious injury to yourself or witnessing a serious injury or the death of someone else; 

b. Facing (witnessing) imminent threats of serious injury or death to yourself or others, or;

c. Experiencing a violation of physical integrity which can create overwhelming feelings of terror or helplessness.

d. These trauma's typically occur outside of the home. They are generally single incident events. 

Examples of Acute Trauma:

School shootings; gang-related violence in the community; terrorist attacks; natural disasters; serious accidents; sudden or violent loss of a loved one; or a single incident of physical or sexual assault.

Type II: Chronic Trauma

a. Traumatic events that occur repeatedly over time.

b. These repeated experiences bring forth a range of cognitive and affective responses, including intense feelings of fear, loss of trust in others, decreased sense of personal safety, guilt, and shame.

Examples of Chronic Trauma: 

Some forms of repeated and/or extreme physical abuse, long-standing sexual abuse, betrayal trauma (interpersonal violence), domestic violence (including witnessing/repeated exposure), wars and other forms of political violence.

Whole Brain Impact of Trauma

Trauma has a significant impact on the whole brain and can cause a multitude of reactions including a disorder of memory

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) patients report deficits in declarative memory, fragmentation of memory, and dissociative memory. 

Symptoms Associated with Childhood Abuse


  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Hyperarousal
  • Hypervigilance
  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Abnormal startle responses
  • Feeling worse when reminded of trauma




Children have to have a sense of security if they are going to bring in additional information and then process and store that information.