While our kids were growing up, they were alike in many ways. Allen and Anne both talked early and often. They were both curious and creative. They spent hours digging through the costume box and dressing up. They loved books and pretending to be the characters in the stories we read together.

But sometimes, my husband Hiram and I marveled at the contrasts our two kids presented. Allen’s birth in 1982 was dramatic. Anne’s arrival, six years later, was quiet. Allen had seven surgeries in four years and fought constant ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia. After her birth, Anne was never hospitalized and required antibiotics rarely. Allen was physically cautious. Thanks to a feeding tube, he rolled over only once and never crawled. He waited to walk until he knew he had the balance to keep from falling down. And he never fell down. Ever.

Anne was a daring child. She rolled across the living room at three months, crawled up the stairs a few months later, climbed out of her crib and hit the floor with a thud soon after that, and walked at nine months. Nothing stopped her.

In every facet of life, Allen’s personality changed with the circumstances, and he was easily influenced. At first, the unpredictability disturbed me more than it disturbed my husband, maybe because I had been a schoolteacher for many years and had worked with children who displayed behaviors similar to our son’s. Once, after listening to me try to explain my vague misgivings and constant uneasiness about Allen, Hiram asked, “But, Jolene, doesn’t being his mom ever fill you with pure delight and joy?”

My eyes filled with tears. “No,” I said. “I feel that with Anne, but not with Allen. And it’s not because I love him any less. And it’s not because Anne was easier to raise than he was. It’s because something is wrong deep inside him. Until we figure out what it is and how to fix it, the joy of being his mom is tinged with uneasiness.”

What’s Wrong with My Child?
When I spoke those words, I had no idea our son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. All I knew was that something was wrong, and somehow, though we didn’t understand how it was possible, we suspected his behaviors were rooted in his medical treatment during those early years.

Identifying the source of the something-is-wrong uneasiness and its connection to possible causes can be hard to do. After all, we aren’t mental health professionals. We’re not trained to notice nuances in behavior like a professional is. But we are parents, and we spend a great deal of time with our kids, which means that we observe many more behaviors in our children than the professionals do. Not only that, we also know more about the past history of our kids than anyone else.

The combination of Allen’s past history and my observations of the difference between his responses in certain situations and his younger sister’s responses was the primary source of my unease. But my training and experience as an elementary teacher added to it. The longer I taught, the more apparent some of Allen’s behaviors became when compared to his peers.

What were some behaviors that contributed to my sense of unease? Here are just a few of my observations:
  • Secure children take physical risks now and then—like Anne climbing out of her crib. Traumatized children avoid physical risks—like Allen not walking until he knew he wouldn’t fall down.
  • Secure children aren’t afraid of making mistakes; for example, Anne was a terrible speller, but she was never bothered when she failed a spelling test. Traumatized children are often perfectionists; Allen developed headaches in the fifth grade, the year he finally missed a spelling word.
  • Secure children are flexible in new situations. Traumatized children can be rigid and anxious about new situations. Most of my students were raring to go when they learned our class was going on a field trip. A few students, the ones I worried about, asked about every detail for days beforehand.
  • Secure children allow others to be in control some of the time. Traumatized children want to be in control at all times. Anne could sit back in a crowd and observe events, joining in when she felt like it. Allen had to be the center of attention because it was a way to maintain control of everyone around him.
These comparisons are a good initial checklist for parents wondering if their children have PTSD. But these are just a beginning. Does My Child Have PTSD? is designed to provide concerned parents and others who relate closely to children—educators, heath care workers, day care providers—with much more. 

This article is an excerpt from Jolene Philo's Does My Child Have PTSD?
Image source: Shutterstock

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Is it possible that the struggles you have with your child may be because he or she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Once ignored, even by the medical professionals treating...
Does My Child Have PTSD?

Jolene Philo

Jolene is the author of the Different Dream Parenting series for parents of kids with special needs, and she speaks at conferences around the country. Her blog,www.DifferentDream.com, provides resources and encouragement for parents of kids with... Read More




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