Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Viewing the Behavioral Responses of ED Children from a Trauma-Informed Perspective

Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Viewing the Behavioral Responses of ED Children from a Trauma-Informed Perspective

Article excerpt

The bulk of educational research regarding trauma focuses on supporting traumatized children in school (Cole, Eisner, Gregory, & Ristuccia, 2013; Cole, O'Brien, Gadd, Ristuccia, & Wallace, 2005; Tishelman, Haney, O'Brien, & Blaustein, 2010). Studies identify trauma signs, trauma-sensitive interventions, and trauma-sensitive school-wide practices. However, scant research examines the behavioral responses among emotionally disturbed (ED) children using a trauma lens.

Many studies investigating characteristics of special education children identified with emotional disturbance use a behavioral perspective and focus on the five federal eligibility characteristics, types of behavior displayed in various educational settings, and the importance of using evidence-based classroom practices (Bower, 1982; Cook, Tankersley, Cook, & Landrum, 2008; Cullinan & Sabornie, 2004; Epstein Cullinan, Ryser, & Pearson, 2002; Gage, 2013; Wery & Cullinan, 2011). Since trauma has a significant impact on a child's ability to function successfully in school settings, it is important to view the behavioral responses among ED children from a trauma-informed perspective (Tishelman et al., 2010). This information is vital for educators designing Individual Education Programs (IEPs) because school personnel must accurately represent the behavioral nuances of each child. Goals, objectives, services, and interventions are accurately determined only when the IEP team fully understands the unique traits and tendencies of each child (Diliberto & Brewer, 2012).

Research regarding childhood trauma has already been addressed in the literature (Cole et al., 2013; Cole et al., 2005; Tishelman et al., 2010). Within the field of psychology studies showed that childhood trauma from exposure to family violence can diminish concentration, memory, and the language abilities children need to function well in school (Streeck-Fischer & van der Kolk, 2000). Children may have learning difficulties, poor modulation of impulses, selfdestructive behavior, and interpersonal difficulties (Cook et al., 2005); they may present with persistent physical or emotional conflict, engage in violent or unsafe acts, and/or seek out deviant affiliations with others (Stolbach et al., 2013).

In school, traumatized children experience significant academic problems. Studies indicated that cognitive delays and neurobiological deficits are a direct result of maltreatment (Delima & Vimpani, 2011). Kauffman (2007) argued that a "medical oudook, not the legal oudook, provides the most hopeful prospects" for the field of special education, because a medical viewpoint is guided by scientific evidence and "seeks to foster healthy, productive citizens" (pp. 253-254). It is this premise on which the rationale for this study was based. It is well documented that students with emotional and behavioral difficulties experience less school success than any other group of students (Landrum, Tankersley, & Kauffman, 2003; Shook, 2012). These difficulties include but are not limited to problems in mathematics and reading; poor peer relationships; aggression; defiance; and depression (Cullinan & Sabornie, 2004). Most often children who display these and other inappropriate behaviors are not adequately progressing through the curriculum (Tishelman et al., 2010).

One could infer that some children with ED might have a trauma history due to their inability to initiate or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, episodes of physical or verbal aggression, and anti-social nature. In fact, when the areas of functional difficulty among children exposed to trauma are compared to ways in which ED children manifest behavioral responses in school, similarities emerge as shown in Table 1.

Given the similarities between the qualifying characteristics used to determine eligibility for special education due to an emotional disturbance and the four functional domains in which children manifest trauma, research that viewed ED children from a trauma-informed perspective has not yet been documented in the literature. …

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