Kathy Bates
Black glasses with rainbows in the lenses surrounded by a rainy day

Hi Kathy,

Do you think a complex trauma diagnosis should be an eligibility factor for the education of students with disabilities? Why or why not?



Hi Jennifer,

Thank you for your question.

I don’t think a student should be required to have a complex trauma diagnosis to receive support for their emotional and behavioral challenges.  A Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports framework (PBIS) and trauma-informed teaching are two valuable approaches that many schools are using to support the emotional and behavioral needs of all students.

Let me take a moment to further explain these practices. PBIS focuses on the prevention of negative behavior rather than punishment. Expectations are crystal clear and taught in the same way as math or reading. PBIS uses a three-tier approach:

  • Tier 1: Everyone learns basic behavior expectations (i.e., respect and kindness). Students are praised when they exhibit these positive behaviors. They are given lots of feedback and opportunities to practice.

  • Tier 2: Some students have similar issues that they struggle with (i.e., social anxiety and an inability to understand social cues). These students may work in small groups and receive evidence-based interventions.

  • Tier 3: In the PBIS system, the family, youth, school, and community mental health center collaborate to provide necessary supports for the child. Tier 3 is individualized for students who are really struggling and have complex needs.

Then, there is trauma-informed teaching, which takes into consideration the impact of trauma on learning and behavior. It also involves the development of positive relationships with adults in school. Students are given lots of time and space to talk or write about their feelings.

These two teaching methods can be integrated since they acknowledge that all behavior is based on communication. Both approaches have helped students develop healthy coping strategies and resilience to deal with their struggles. Safe, secure, and supportive environments are vital to the success of these approaches. I also feel that it would be unfortunate to burden someone with a special ed and/or mental health label when they could access these behavioral supports as part of their school curriculum.