U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Logan recently ruled the following: traumatized plaintiffs “adequately alleged that complex trauma and adversity can result in physiological effects constituting a physical impairment.” He refused to dismiss the case and instead demanded to hear it.
This reminds me of the Cambridge Psychiatrist, Professor Ed Bullmore, who stated based on his research findings that “there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms,” providing more evidence that what we once considered mental health issues are, in fact, physical conditions.
From medicine to law, we are recognizing the need to acknowledge and intervene with the root physiological cause of what we’ve historically labeled as “mental.” Depression – much like the outcome of trauma – is not something rooted in the mind. It is rooted in the body. We know that exposure to trauma and/or the experience of medical illness causes widespread inflammation by taxing the immune system. Researchers have found that it is this inflammation specifically that is at the root of what we call depression. Inflammation of the body AND inflammation of the brain, and both compromise cognition in ways that make learning and adaptive behavior extremely challenging.
Judge Logan’s ruling builds upon a 2015 ruling in the lawsuit filed by traumatized students against Compton Unified School District. In that case, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald decided that students could be classified as disabled due to trauma and adversity, and could thereby be entitled to the legal protections provided by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and/or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
As much as I don’t want traumatized students to be labeled or stigmatized, and as much as I don’t want school districts to be burdened by lawsuits, I must speak out as a person who stands on both sides, who stands and speaks as an educator and mental health practitioner with 26 years of professional experience in schools. If lawsuits are what will force districts to replace harmful punishment with alternative effective trauma-informed intervention, then let the courtrooms fill. I see the need for the legal protection of traumatized students from the punitive discipline and shame they receive because they have not yet been taught or given opportunities to practice how to self-regulate and control their fight, flight, freeze behaviors. It is our job as educators to educate. If students don’t know how to read, we teach them to read. If they don’t know how to do math, we teach them to do math; if they don’t know how to self-regulate, then it is our job to teach the tools that create their greater capacity to self-regulate.
In 2018, we have plenty of opportunities to access, learn, and practice alternative trauma-informed strategies. I’ve been training educators, parents, medical and mental health practitioners in these alternative approaches for two decades. I have created a whole curriculum that makes it easy and fun. Come on school districts! Get with the program! If you don’t’ want more lawsuits forcing you to write 504 Plans and IEPs, invest in professional development that will get everyone trauma-informed and equipped to effectively teach in spite of trauma.