The effects of childhood trauma are vast and unique to each child. In the case of Austin*, an 11-year-old attending Horizon Academy at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, the physical, emotional, and social effects of trauma exposure impacted every aspect of his academic day. Initial reading and math assessments placed him two years below his fifth grade level. As our Education staff worked with Austin, evidence of an undiagnosed learning disability began to reveal itself. He shared with staff that he hated to read and that it triggered his fears. A great deal of his written work was illegible, with misspelled words that were constructed by a mixture of upper and lower case letters of various sizes floating across the page. Writing struggles flowed into math accuracy. Reading struggles flowed across the academic curriculum. As our staff uncovered his academic struggles, the polite, quiet and friendly Austin began to retreat under his ever-present red hoodie and sit with his head on his desk. He would fly into angry outbursts and refused to complete his school work.
Our amazing Education team was not deterred. They recognized Austin’s unlimited potential and let him know with each word and action that he was safe and cared for here at the Shelter. Through the tenets of trauma-informed education, Austin began to believe in himself make progress. When working with a child who has experienced trauma, all the lesson plans, diagnostics, intervention tools and targeted materials of the world are useless if the teacher cannot reach the student. Through the collaborative efforts of our education team, working together with our Youth Care Specialists, Austin has emerged from the hoodie and is actively participating in school activities.
We recognize his small and big successes.
We help him recognize the traumas of his childhood may have placed him where he is today but we hold a caring expectation that giving up, quitting, or hiding is not an option.
We listen to his conversations and discover his interests.
We design and construct targeted learning materials pertaining to his interests.
We helped him overcome his reading fears by providing time for him to listen to teachers read stories of interest. Then we gave him space to independently listen to audio books. He now readily comes to the resource room for reading and writing interventions.
These are just a few of the numerous trauma-informed techniques that have placed Austin on a learning path of success. He has improved his reading assessment to an average fourth grader at the beginning of the year and his math assessment to an average mid-year fourth grade student. More important than test scores, however, he ditched the hoodie, participates in classroom coursework and his handwriting is legible with the accommodation of Redi-Space transitional notebook paper. He is improving his decoding, fluency and comprehension skills as he reads aloud daily. Currently, he is reading and learning elements of real friendship through the book Bridge to Terabithia. Now, if he comes across a word he doesn’t know, his hand automatically reaches for the dictionary. He recognizes his own improvement in his written work as he confidently pointed out, “See how all my letters are on the line and all the letters are the same size?” We are so proud of Austin and his achievements. His next book of choice is Moby Dick!
*name and image changed to protect privacy