Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. Kathy Collins

Second Reader

Dr. Allyson Phillips

Third Reader

Professor Sue Shults


Dr. Bruce Perry, the renowned child psychiatrist, defines trauma as “an experience, or pattern of experiences, that impairs the proper functioning of the person’s stress-response system, making it more reactive or sensitive” (Supin, 2016, p. 5). According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, one study discovered that more than half of children aged 2–5 had experienced some form of a severe traumatic stressor in their lifetime (Zero to Six Collaborative Group, 2010). Consequently, there is a high likelihood of finding a child who has experienced trauma within any educator’s classroom walls. Because of this fact, future and present educators must understand how undergoing trauma affects the brain. The link between sustaining trauma and the size of the brain cortex can negatively affect a child’s memory, attention span, perceptual awareness, communication abilities, and consciousness (Bachner & Orwig, 2008). Since all of these skills are necessary for success in a classroom setting, answering the question of how to reach students who have undergone trauma is of utmost importance.

In fact, a team of child psychologists from a San Diego health facility took notice of the trend between early childhood trauma and high-risk behavior in adulthood. This led to the creation of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs), a study which evaluated trauma on the basis of ten questions over a breadth of categories including abuse, neglect, and mental health issues (See Appendix A for a copy of the ACE questionnaire). With a higher ACEs score comes a greater risk for destructive patterns in adulthood (Buckwalter & Powell, 2017).

Some examples of the ways trauma can occur include abuse, neglect, abandonment, the death of a parent, guardian or close relative, and severe accidents. While the scope of traumatic experiences is broad, the psychological effects are similar regardless of the cause. For a child who has been exposed to one ACE category, the likelihood of exposure to another traumatic experience increases to approximately 80% (Buckwalter & Powell, 2017). A study conducted by Nadine Burke, a pediatrician, in conjunction with a few child psychologists found that less than 3% of children who had an ACE score of zero exhibited learning and behavior issues. Whereas, children with an ACE score of four or greater had a 51.2% propensity toward educational hindrances (Burke et al., 2011). Because children who have experienced trauma experience great consequences in both the psychological and educational realms, further exploration becomes necessary. Within the following paper, the psychological effects of early-childhood trauma will be expounded upon. Following that discussion, an explanation of the implications for pedagogical techniques and for trauma-sensitive schooling will ensue.



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