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Clinical Considerations

Symptoms of PTSD may appear in children. The symptoms can be similar to those observed in adults but the clinician must rely more heavily on observations of the child’s behaviour than on verbal expression. For example, the child may demonstrate symptoms of re-experiencing as manifested by monotonous, repetitive play representing aspects of the traumatic event, visual memories of the events in and out of play, repeated questions or declarations about the traumatic event and nightmares. The child may develop bedwetting, loss of control of bowel movements, social withdrawal, restricted affect, attitude changes toward self and others and feelings that there is no future. S/he may experience hyperarousal and have night terrors, problems going to bed, sleep disturbance, heightened startle response, irritability and significant disturbances in attention and concentration. Fears and aggressive behaviour that were non-existent before the traumatic event may appear, such as aggressiveness toward peers, adults or animals, fear of the dark, fear of going to the toilet alone and phobias. The child may demonstrate sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for his/her age and may experience somatic reactions. Anxiety symptoms may appear, such as exaggerated fear of strangers, separation anxiety, panic, agitation, temper tantrums and uncontrolled crying. The child also may develop eating problems.