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Network helps children with traumatic stress disorder

By Kelly Rayburn

Sept. 20, 2003 9:00 p.m.

On Sept. 11, 2001, two of the world’s largest buildings
came crashing to the ground. Debris fell from the sky, covering
entire blocks of New York City ““ and some elementary
schools.

That day, 8,500 students were evacuated from schools near the
World Trade Center. But for many of those students, the problems
did not end after being ushered to safety or even when their
schools reopened. Many began to show signs of anxiety; some had
nightmares; still more began to fear tall buildings or loud
noises.

To one degree or another, these students were suffering from
traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to increased anxiety,
poor sleeping patters and violent behavior. Now, researchers at
UCLA and Duke University continue their efforts to help children
like those affected in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.

Near the two-year anniversary of the attacks, the National Child
Traumatic Stress Network, administered by researchers at UCLA and
Duke, released checklists and guides for schools and parents
designed to help them care for children before, during and after
disasters occur.

Though their work seems particularly important post Sept. 11,
2001, it began with a grant awarded before the attacks.

“Congress had begun to appreciate the extent and severity
of the impact of traumatic events on children and their
families,” said Alan Steinberg, a UCLA researcher who is the
associate director for NCTSN.

The network was started to address the problem of traumatic
stress in children and improve the quality of care from those
suffering from it, Steinberg said.

The tools developed by NCTSN aim to educate parents and teachers
about what sorts of incidents can lead to traumatic stress, what
signs a child might display if he or she is afflicted with stress,
and what types of “intervention strategies” can help a
child through that stress. They also outline how teachers and
parents can handle their own stress following traumatic events in
order to best help others.

Doctors and educators point out that though Sept. 11 brought new
light to the problem of traumatic stress among children, problems
do develop from sources totally unrelated to terrorism or
wide-scale disaster.

“The Sept. 11 attacks on America shocked the nation into a
deep awareness of what it means to live with uncertainty and
danger,” said Duke’s John Fairbank, co-director of
NCTSN in a statement. “As horrible as the attacks were, it is
equally tragic that many children face traumatic events every day
in America.”

Children can develop traumatic stress from a serious injury or
illness, or after violent incidents in the home or school.

But Sept. 11 did prove to be a unique challenge for those
charged with helping children after such a scary event. And not
only children in New York were affected.

Jeffrey Jacobs, the school psychologist at University Elementary
School, said the school did not have major problems with traumatic
stress after Sept. 11, but that some students did display increased
anxiety. He remembered working with a girl who was troubled by the
attacks. The day after he talked with her, she used Legos to
“rebuild” the twin towers.

Jacobs said this represented her taking control of the
situation. Afterward, her anxiety decreased markedly, he said.

With reports from Robert Salonga, Bruin Senior Staff. Visit
www.nctsnet.org for more information.

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