Trauma is when a person experiences an event, series of events, or situation that causes lasting negative effects. The traumatic event or situation is viewed by the person as being physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening. People with disabilities have a greater risk of experiencing trauma, because they are more likely to experience unfair treatment. Negative effects from trauma can include changes to a person’s mental, physical, social, emotional and/or spiritual well-being. Some effects of trauma can be depression, changes in behavior, headaches, nausea, and more.
Not everyone who experiences trauma is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because people experience trauma differently. PTSD is a mental health diagnosis that means the person’s day-to-day life is affected by the trauma. Trauma can have a lasting impact on a person but does not always affect daily living.
Trauma-informed care means using information about how trauma affects people to provide them better treatment. Communication is a major challenge in understanding trauma and providing trauma-informed care to people with disabilities. It can be hard to understand a person’s needs if they have trouble putting them into words. Including caregivers in treatment can help because they can say what they think the person with a disability is experiencing. It is also important to talk to the person with a disability, because they know their experience the best.
Many professionals are not given training about how to work with people with disabilities who have also had trauma. There is a limited number of mental health workers across the country. So, the number of workers with the knowledge to help people with disabilities work through their trauma is even more limited.
Efforts are being made to improve the quality of trauma-informed care. There are organizations, such as The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (www.nctsn.org), that are working to improve care for people with disabilities who have experienced trauma. Also, some states are trying to become ‘Trauma Informed States’ which are working to improve their trauma-informed services. Consider reaching out to state officials if your state is not a ‘Trauma Informed State’. You can also reach out to healthcare workers to consider people with developmental disabilities and their care.
Read the full Trauma-Informed Care for People with Developmental Disabilities fact sheet