APRIL 8, 2021 – Melissa Williamson, an interdisciplinary learning and teaching lecturer in UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development is lending her expertise to a special community summit: “How Traumatic Experiences Affect Learning.” In partnership with San Antonio PBS station KLRN and Sesame Street in Communities, the virtual summit gathers local community experts to discuss how traumatic experiences can impact learning.
“I will be sharing the importance of understanding what trauma is and how as adults our own negative experiences can have an impact on how we raise our children,” Williamson said. “It is also important to note that the majority of us have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences.”
Research shows that chronic exposure to trauma affects children’s brains, specifically the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. These brain regions control our executive functions, such as planning, memory, focusing attention, impulse control and using new information to make decisions.
However, with trauma all these essential brain functions can be impaired. Chronic trauma exposure, whether real or perceived, also has adverse consequences. In the long term this can diminish a child’s ability to differentiate between genuine threats or safe situations, and it can impair their ability to learn and interact with others, and it may lead to serious anxiety disorders.
According to the 2009 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, 61% of children and adolescents who are 17 and younger have been exposed to violence in the past year. Over one-third of children experienced two or more direct victimizations. Over the course of a lifetime, about one in two children will have experienced violence.
Williamson is a certified trauma professional and has vast expertise in understanding trauma and the brain structure that impact learning. Her expertise comes not only from personal experience but also from her research. She has worked as an early childhood professional learning consultant who brings this and many other important topics to audiences across the country.
By understanding and responding to trauma, parents and educators can build positive learning environments. “Trauma-informed” approaches are based on the belief that a child’s actions are a direct result of their experiences, and when he or she acts out or disengages, the question we should ask is not “What’s wrong with you?” but rather “What happened to you?” By being sensitive to a kid’s past and current experiences with trauma, caretakers can break the cycle of trauma, prevent retraumatization and engage a child in learning.
“The Sesame Street in Communities initiative is key to providing some of our nation’s most vulnerable young learners with a strong foundation,” said Debra Sanchez, senior vice president for education and children’s content operations for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “We are proud to extend our partnership with Sesame Workshop at this critical time to reach communities across the country when the pandemic has impacted so many.”
The virtual event, held in English and Spanish, is part of the Sesame Street in Communities initiative, which in its second year deepens Sesame Workshop and PBS KIDS’ longstanding commitment to using the power of public television to bring critical early learning to children across the country in communities big and small.
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