Chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal screens for PTSD

Badly in­jured kids are now be­ing watched for dis­or­der

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Mary Ann Roser

Dell Chil­dren’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Austin is now screen­ing the most se­verely in­jured chil­dren — those who come through the hos­pi­tal’s trauma cen­ter — for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Chil­dren be­tween the ages of 7 and 17 who show signs of mental or emo­tional stress be­cause of an ac­ci­dent, wreck or med­i­cal mishap also are be­ing of­fered free coun­sel­ing, the re­searchers said. The screen­ing and the coun­sel­ing, both of which re­quire par­ent and child per­mis­sion, are part of a study aimed at pre­dict­ing which chil­dren are likely to suf­fer PTSD, an ail­ment more of­ten as­so­ci­ated with troops trau­ma­tized in bat­tle.

The re­searchers started en­rolling chil­dren in Novem­ber, and as of Fri­day, 111 had agreed to par­tic­i­pate. They hope to en­roll 250 par­tic­i­pants.

“Once we have a … re­li­able way of pre­dict­ing (PTSD), then we can pro­vide a re­li­able in­ter­ven­tion to see if they can be pre­vented from hav­ing PTSD,” said Kevin Stark, a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tional UT pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­ogy Re­searcher at hos­pi­tal’s trauma cen­ter psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas and di­rec­tor of psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices at the Texas Child Study Cen­ter, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Dell Chil­dren’s and UT. “The rea­son that is im­por­tant is be­cause PTSD, once it de­vel­ops, be­comes a chronic, life­long dis­or­der.”

The hos­pi­tal’s trauma cen­ter sees about 1,000 pa­tients a year and es­ti­mates that 8 to 30 per­cent may ex­pe­ri­ence PTSD in a year, spokes­woman Matilda Sanchez said.

Chil­dren with PTSD may ex­pe­ri­ence many emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems, in­clud­ing “dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior dis­or­ders, eat­ing dis­or­ders, sex­ual act­ing out, other risk­tak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, de­pres­sion, the full range of anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, dis­so­ci­a­tion, mood la­bil­ity (swings), vi­o­lence and dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing,” ac­cord­ing to a 2008 ar­ti­cle by Dr. Roy Lu­bit, a fac­ulty mem­ber at Mount Si­nai School of Medicine and New York Uni­ver­sity School of Medicine.

Stark and co-re­searcher Karla Law­son, a re­search sci­en­tist at Dell Chil­dren’s trauma cen­ter, said other work on PTSD in in­jured chil­dren has iden­ti­fied fac­tors that will help them in their study.

For ex­am­ple, en­rolled chil­dren will be asked whether they were alone at the time of the ac­ci­dent, whether they ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of pain and whether they thought they were go­ing to die. Chil­dren who an­swer yes to such ques­tions are be­lieved to face a higher risk of PTSD, Stark and Law­son said.

The study is ex­clud­ing chil­dren with se­vere brain in­juries.

Not all of the chil­dren en­rolled in the study have PTSD, nor do all re­quire treat­ment, Stark said.

“We call them at six weeks to check to see if the child is do­ing OK, and if they’re not, they would move into treat­ment,” he said. Some might need it sooner, es­pe­cially if they were in an ac­ci­dent that killed a par­ent or sib­ling.

UT grad­u­ate stu­dents are en­rolling pa­tients seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m., Law­son said.

Fam­i­lies have been ea­ger to par­tic­i­pate, Law­son said.

“It ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions,” she said. “I think it’s go­ing very, very well.”

Karla Law­son

Kevin Stark

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