Trauma can seem like a big and scary word. What is trauma? Trauma is subjective, meaning that one person may find an experience or experiences to be traumatizing, and another one may not. One definition of trauma can be defined as “the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person's sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships” - CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).
We often think of trauma as a car accident, the death of a loved one, abuse or neglect. While all of these things are likely to be traumatic, it can look different for every person. A prolonged stay in the NICU may be traumatic from the early years of one’s life, influencing the development of one’s nervous system from then onward. Children on the Autism Spectrum often are in a state of fight/flight due to constant sensory overwhelm and others misunderstanding their behaviour, resulting in chronic disconnection and overwhelm. There’s also intergenerational trauma, in which a direct traumatic experience doesn’t need to occur for the individual to have the impact of previous trauma within their nervous system.
Oftentimes, feeling different in this way leaves us feeling alone, shameful, and very afraid that no one will be able to help, or understand us. It’s important that as a caregiver if you recognize or suspect your child has experienced trauma to not view this as a failure, but instead an opportunity to obtain necessary support. As trauma lives in our bodies and minds, our OT’s are uniquely situated to help you and your family deal with the consequences of all different types of trauma or suspected trauma.
What are signs your child could benefit from an occupational therapist?
- Behavioral challenges (school and/or at home) with known or unknown history of trauma
- Fears or phobias that are stopping your child from being successful in a task, activity or environment
- Self injurious behaviors associated with history of trauma
- Have a history or suspected history of trauma and are having difficulty being able to do what they want to, need to or are expected to do
- Have a suspected or history of trauma and have challenges with self-regulation (recovery from emotional turmoil, trouble concentrating and showing their full potential at school or in home environments)
In a nutshell
Here are a few ways an occupational therapist can help:
- Work from a trauma informed lens to educate you and your child about what’s going on in their body and brain
- Work to help regulate their body and nervous system to optimize function in whatever they are struggling with
- Help to determine how childs frequented environments can help or combat your child's success
- Provide support for caregivers and your child
- Provide any necessary referral or resources