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Quick Facts on Acute Stress Disorder

A brief overview of the signs and symptoms of acute stress disorder, and how it's treated in children and adolescents.

en Español


Acute stress disorder occurs when a child has a particularly strong reaction to a stressing event such as a real or threatened death, serious injury, sexual violation or a natural disaster. This reaction, which happens from three days to a month after the event, goes beyond the normal upset you’d expect. It may result not only in difficulties coping with the event, but in impaired ability to function at home, at school and in social settings. It’s a less severe and long-lasting condition than the better-known post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms of acute stress disorder

  • Recurring, intrusive memories or nightmares of the event
  • Dissociative states in which he feels the event is recurring
  • Stress triggered by things that remind him of the event
  • Efforts to avoid stressing memories, thoughts or feelings, and situations that remind him of the event
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hypervigilance
  • Problems concentrating
  • Negative mood
  • Foggy, dazed, detached demeanor

Treatment and Prognosis of Acute Stress Disorder

Cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to be effective for kids with acute stress disorder. Some cases resolve themselves, but others can progress into the more impairing and long-term PTSD.

See our Mental Health Guide for a complete discussion of acute stress disorder.

This article was last reviewed or updated on December 5, 2023.