For a child to be diagnosed with PTSD, she must have experienced a traumatic event either directly, by witnessing it happening to someone else, or by hearing of it happening to a close family member or friend. Since many children who are initially anxious and distressed in the aftermath of a disturbing event will recover in a healthy way without intervention, PTSD isn’t diagnosed until a few months or longer after the initial trauma occurs, although symptoms may manifest earlier or even several years later.
A child who meets the criteria for PTSD shows symptoms commonly grouped in three areas: intrusive memories, such as bad dreams and play that reenact the event; avoidance and numbing, such as difficulty maintaining relationships, difficulty concentrating, and disinterest in formerly significant activities; and increased arousal, such as irritability, guilt, trouble sleeping, or fearful behavior. Children with the disorder often have stomachaches and headaches. The symptoms will cause significant impairment to ordinary functionality.