Look beyond Classic Symptoms to Spot PTSD in Affected Kids

By Jancin, Bruce | Clinical Psychiatry News, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Look beyond Classic Symptoms to Spot PTSD in Affected Kids


Jancin, Bruce, Clinical Psychiatry News


ASPEN, COLO. -- Manifestations of posttraumatic stress disorder in children are frequently quite different than from that experienced by adults, Dr. John A. Talbott reported at a psychiatry conference sponsored by the University of Colorado.

Indeed, the physician who is attuned solely to the classic descriptions of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adult trauma survivors may overlook the diagnosis in affected children.

On the other hand, it appears that as children grow into adulthood, their PTSD symptoms, if unrecognized and untreated, may evolve over time to more closely resemble the typical reactions to trauma encountered as an adult, said Dr. Talbott, professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and a former president of the American Psychiatric Association.

In one study of adults who had been victims of sexual abuse as children, their Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) scores were found to be extremely similar to those of combat veterans with PTSD. There were no differences between the two groups on MMPI subscales assessing depression, anxiety, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, somatization, elevated mood, or paranoid ideation. The only difference between the two populations was in the domain of anger.

Dr. Talbott identified some of the major manifestations of PTSD in children based on how their response differed from that of adults. Children often display:

* Disorganized or agitated behavior rather than the fear, helplessness, and horror described in adults.

* Repetitive play, in which themes of the trauma rather than the classic flashbacks and recurrent and intrusive recollections of the traumatic event are expressed. …

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