While some kids live hyper-aroused and are incorrectly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder other children respond to early trauma by dissociating. This is particularly true if they experienced trauma as infants or toddlers. The three choices any human has to stress is flight, fight or freeze. Infants are incapable of running or fighting so they are left with freeze. In The Neurodevelopmental Impact of Violence in Childhood Bruce Perry describes dissociation as disengaging from the external work and attuning to the internal world. This can include distraction, avoidance, daydreaming and at the extreme end fainting or catatonia.
Children experience dissociation as going to a “different place”, assuming the persona of superheroes or animals, a sense of “watching a movie that I was in ” or just floating. Often parents don’t even notice that their child is dissociating; they may just appear compliant or quiet. They may present as numb, robotic, day dreaming or just staring off with a glazed look. They frequently don’t remember instructions or even doing things they should not.
It is important to recognize that the child is dissociating so the parent can help them to cope with situations in a more productive way. It also may be a sign that the child needs some therapeutic work to recover from early trauma.
This chart from the Child Trauma Academy illustrates the normal range of responses and those of the dissociative person.
Our goal would be to join with the child in regulation; making it safe for him/her to stay present even in stressful situations. Sadly a stressful situation for a trauma victim may be a parents stern face. We will explore answers for these children in future blogs. If you would like to read the first blog in this series please click on the link and thanks again for reading our blog.