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The interactive diagrams and video below provide helpful ways of conceptualizing how toxic stress and trauma disrupt children’s abilities to meet behavioral expectations at school and engage in academic learning. 

trauma and our three brains

The idea that we have one mind and three brains is a simplified way of understanding the complex reactions that we have to trauma. When in the midst of a threatening traumatic experience or the memory of one is triggered it registers first in our survival brain, and the resulting biological reaction triggers our impulse to fight, flight, or freeze. Our emotional brain may then flood our body with the feeling of fear, terror, overwhelming helplessness, or sadness. Our thinking brain is the slowest to join the processing of the traumatic event and make a rational decision about how to respond, if it's functions are not completely suppressed by our survival and emotional brains. 

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learning brain VS SURVIVAL BRAIN

Educators' abilities to be aware of and utilize strategies for keeping students in their thinking (learning) brain will substantially affect children's abilities to benefit from high quality instruction. 

Domains of impairment

When traumatic experiences occur early in life, and particularly when the experiences include a loss of safety such as witnessing violence or experiencing abuse or neglect many core aspects of development can be disrupted and result in delayed developmental capacities. These children are described as having experienced developmental trauma because their developmental energies were consumed with day-to-day survival and management of stressful experiences. As they grow older several domains of developmental impairment are observed. It is these underlying domains of impairment that need to be addressed if we are to see improvements in their emotional and behavioral self-regulation, interpersonal relationships, and academic functioning.  

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behaviors observed in a typical classroom

The behavioral challenges that are then expressed in the classroom are not the result of poor choices. Instead, they are the result of the student's exposure to and inability to manage toxic levels of stress. On some days the student may be able to display expected classroom behaviors, but on high stress days that same student may respond to small changes or challenges in the classroom with defiant, aggressive, or dissociative behaviors. This inconsistency in being able to self-regulate makes it difficult for the student to understand them-self, and challenges the educator's ability to meet the student's emotional and academic needs, and maintain control of the classroom.

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