#172 - Diving into Trauma and What You Can Do to Make a Difference with Jerrod Brown, PhD

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC September 29, 2021

#172 - Diving into Trauma and What You Can Do to Make a Difference with Jerrod Brown, PhD

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Diving into Trauma and What You Can Do to Make a Difference with Jerrod Brown, PhD


On today’s episode, our guest, Jerrod Brown, talks to us about all things trauma: why it’s imperative for everyone to understand its role, the wide range of forms it takes in children and caregivers, and how the same traumatic experiences can impact people completely differently. 

We discuss how experiencing trauma without the necessary support robs people of joy, energy, and creativity. You’ll also hear how trauma affects executive function, and why it’s dangerous not to take trauma into account as a healthcare professional. 

Jerrod explores the role of Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic stress exposure in development before we move on to discuss all the things we can do to address trauma in the kiddos we work with. Jerrod shares some pearls of wisdom from his own practice, touches on how trauma presents on a cellular level, doles out some practical advice for parents navigating trauma, and points professionals in the direction of some useful resources to grow their knowledge. 

We hope you join us to learn from Jerrod’s extensive expertise today!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Why it’s imperative to understand trauma and what we can do about it.

  • The most common forms of trauma: from developmental, complex, and cumulative and repetitive to historical, generational, and single incident.

  • How the same trauma can impact people completely differently. 

  • The collective trauma we are all going through as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Trauma’s impact on sensory processing capabilities through disrupted attachment patterns.

  • What trauma can do to affect self-regulation and inhibition systems.

  • Executive function, trust issues, and problems with sleep that occur as a result of trauma.

  • Misdiagnosis, overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis that occur if you don’t consider trauma.

  • Symptoms of trauma in children.

  • How Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress exposure affect development.

  • How Jerrod emphasizes teaching resilience through being kind, calm, patient, and curious.

  • How trauma presents on a cellular level: mitochondrial dysfunction.

  • What the allostatic load is and how it affects toxic stress exposure.

  • Advice for parents, starting with seeking professional help and creating stability and safety.

  • Resources for therapists: trauma-based training, ACE training, TEDtalks, and the CDC.

Highlights:

“It is imperative, regardless of what organization you're in or what lens you look through, to really understand trauma – understanding the topics of trauma informed care, understanding what we can do about it.” — Jerrod Brown[09:00]


“It's very important to realize that trauma can impact people very differently. You can have two people who've had the same exposure to a trauma, and their reactions to it can differ dramatically.” — Jerrod Brown[12:41]


“If a professional is screening someone and they don't take [trauma into account], they may jump to a conclusion. That person may be diagnosed with something they don't have. It could lead to misdiagnosis, overdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, and maybe, at the core, is trauma.” — Jerrod Brown[17:33]

“Stress in and of itself is not a bad thing. When it reaches toxic stress, where it's cumulative and it becomes uncontrollable to that child, that can negatively impact brain development, body development. It can have a significant impact on immunity and growth.” — Jerrod Brown[20:46]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Google Drive Folder with Freebies from Jerrod

Jerrod Brown on LinkedIn
American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies
The American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies on Facebook 

The Listening Program ® - Advanced Brain Technologies 

Harkla Primitive Reflexes Digital Course

Harkla

All Things Sensory on Instagram

All Things Sensory on Facebook

Harkla on Instagram 

Harkla Resources — discount code “SENSORY”

 

Full Show Transcript

[00:00:02] RH: Hey, there. I’m Rachel.

 

[00:00:04] JH: And I’m Jessica and this is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapists, and educators to live happy and healthy lives.

 

[00:00:11] RH: We dive into all things sensory, special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.

 

[00:00:24] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.

 

[00:00:31] RH:Hey, everyone. Welcome back to All Things Sensory by Harkla. I’m Rachel.

 

[00:00:35] JH:I’m Jessica. Today, we are talking with Jerrod Brown. He is a professor at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. We are diving into all things trauma.

 

[00:00:49] RH:Jerrod is beyond knowledgeable on this topic. He shares not only what trauma looks like, what it can manifest as, as well as strategies to address trauma, and who to see and how to help and activities and resources and research. So much information.

 

[00:01:08] JH:So much. He gave us so much great information. So be ready to take some notes and let's jump into it.

 

[00:01:16] RH:Yeah, make sure that you check out our show notes after the episode as well. We're going to have everything linked there that we talked about this episode.

 

[00:01:23] JH:Okay, now let's jump into it.

 

[00:01:24] RH:Let's meet Jerrod.

 

[INTERVIEW]

 

[00:01:26] RH: Hi, Jerrod. How are you today?

 

[00:01:28] JB:Fantastic. Good afternoon.

 

[00:01:30] RH:Hello. Hello.

 

[00:01:31] JH:We're so excited to talk to you today. We're going to dive into all the things that you do. But first, we need to ask you five secret questions.

 

[00:01:39] JB:Bring it on, let's do it.

 

[00:01:41] RH:All right. These are very random questions just for our audience to get to know your deepest, darkest secrets. First one is – I think you need to do this one, because this is your “would you rather” this.

 

[00:01:54] JH:I know. I was thinking of it as I was driving here today. So, would you rather fight a bear or a mountain lion?

 

[00:01:54] JB:Probably a bear. Because I've seen so many videos online that people who have raised bears from birth don't end up hurting them. So, that's my best chance I think to survive maybe.

 

[00:02:13] RH:Interesting. All right. Next one. How do you drink your coffee?

 

[00:02:19] JB:I try not to drink coffee. My wife makes up for me.

 

[00:02:23] RH:Oh, no.

 

[00:02:24] JH:No. Do you drink green tea instead?

 

[00:02:27] JB:Usually, every day, one to two glasses or bottles of green tea.

 

[00:02:32] RH:Okay.

 

[00:02:32] JB:Caffeine bugs me. It makes me jittery.

 

[00:02:36] JH:I heard something about replacing your morning cup of coffee with a morning cup of green tea, steals 87% of joy out of your life. I don't know.

 

[00:02:49] JB:That's not good.

 

[00:02:51] JH:But you seem pretty joyful.

 

[00:02:52] JB:That’s a lot of percentage.

 

[00:02:53] JH:You seem pretty joyful, though.

 

[00:02:56] JB:Well, I’m going to try. 

 

[00:02:58] JH:Do you like coffee?

 

[00:03:00] JB:Coffee by itself? No. I like the smell of it. But the taste and I know there's a lot of health benefits to it. But I never got into it. My mom always gave me tea as a kid and I just got acquired a taste for all kinds of tea.

 

[00:03:13] RH:Okay, I feel like whenever we ask this question, everyone, whatever we choose to ask this question, like I don't drink coffee.

 

[00:03:19] JH:No. Who was it? Was it your brother that was like, out of a cup or something?

 

[00:03:24] RH:I drink my coffee in a cup. Okay, next question Jess.

 

[00:03:29] JH:What is the most random thing in your fridge right now?

 

[00:03:34] JB:Everything's organic and healthy. So. usually like maybe like a candy bar that's in there once in a great while that my wife might sneak in.

 

[00:03:43] RH:What kind of candy bar?

 

[00:03:43] JB:Which sounds pretty boring, but we – dark chocolate, which is probably healthy too.

 

[00:03:49] RH:Wow. Yeah, really? You’re not giving us much either.

 

[00:03:51] JB:I know.

 

[00:03:55] JH:All right. It’s fine.

 

[00:03:54] JB:We’re pretty boring people, to be honest.

 

[00:04:01] RH:It’s all good. All right, next one. What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?

 

[00:04:07] JB:I like running on the treadmill and watching movies. It's a good way to decompress from the day.

 

[00:04:13] JH:What's the last movie you watched?

 

[00:04:15] JB:I'm halfway through Rudy right now. I found it online. Everybody knows Rudy. True story with all movies. So, I try to watch a lot of inspirational movies that keep me going because I don't necessarily like the running. But I like the after effects of getting the stress out of the system.

 

[00:04:30] RH:Yeah, I love that. Okay. Our last question and our most favorite one of all, what is your sensory quirk?

 

[00:04:39] JB:Define that for me if you can.

 

[00:04:42] RH:So, I'll give you an example. We'll give you our sensory quirks. So, we all have our sensory systems and we all have little quirks of how we process the world. Mine, I struggle with auditory processing and filtering out competing noises in the background.

 

[00:05:00] JH:Mine is that I'm a fidgeter. So, I fidget. When I'm focused on something, it’s my sensory quirk to help me focus, basically.

 

[00:05:09] JB:Does biting fingernails count where to the point my wife gets frustrated with me? And I fidget a lot.

 

[00:05:17] RH:Yes. That’s a great one.

 

[00:05:21] JH:Okay. Now that everybody knows everything about you. Well, the fun stuff anyways –

 

[00:05:27] JB:Hopefully everyone is still tuned in.

 

[00:05:31] RH:You might have lost them that you don’t drink coffee, who knows?

 

[00:05:36] JB: I think so. 

 

[00:05:37] RH:Can you tell our audience who you are, what you do, why you do it, and all of the things?

 

[00:05:44] JB:Yeah, so I live and work in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm a professor for Concordia University in St. Paul. I'm the program director there for a Master of Arts degree in human services with an emphasis in forensic behavioral health. That's just basically the intersection between behavioral problems and coming into contact with the criminal justice system, the legal arena and there's a whole bunch of other things in there too. I am also the program director for a new emphasis area that we're actually launching next month for the first time in trauma, resilience and self-care strategies. These are graduate level programs fully online. And it's more for professionals, practitioners who are working in any of the helping professions, so it could be law enforcement, could be case managers, could be people working in the mental health arena. 

 

I do a lot of consultation on the side and training for lots of organizations. Probably my biggest areas of focus are around the topics of trauma. I do a lot of work in the area of autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injuries, someone fire setting, and a whole bunch of other topics.

 

I guess, I classify myself as a professor, trainer, researcher and consultant. I’ve done a lot of publishing, done some research and some of these topics and love learning more about the topic of trauma, because I think trauma is so universal to so many of these systems of care we work with regardless if you are a police officer, a psychologist, a case manager, sensory specialist, occupational therapists. You're probably working with clients directly or indirectly impacted by trauma.

 

[00:07:39] JH:How did you get started in this work? What's your why?

 

[00:07:44] JB:When I was a kid, I always wanted to learn about behavior, and I truly, to be honest with you, wanting to get into the FBI, years ago when I was even in eighth grade, in seventh grade. So, as I grew up, I became just really interested in the law, in like behavior, in criminal justice things. So, I brought them all together and after digging deeper into all of these kinds of sub topics, I realized how impactful trauma can be. Regardless, if you're involved in the criminal justice system, as a defendant, maybe you're a witness, maybe you're a professional, and you're exposed to clients impacted by trauma.

 

Just being aware of the topics of like burnout, and compassion fatigue, and empathy, fatigue, and those kinds of topics. So, trauma, I really think is like, unfortunately, the glue that links a lot of these sub kind of disciplines together. And so often, I work with lots of professionals who work with clients, and many of the clients they work with, maybe have an occupational therapist, maybe they have a psychiatrist, maybe they have a case manager, maybe there's a probation officer. It is imperative, regardless of what organization you're in, or what lens you look through, to really understand trauma, and understanding the topics of trauma informed care, but also understanding what we can do about it as well to help the clients we work with, but also make sure we're taking care of ourselves as professionals. So, we're in the best position possible to work with families, children, other professionals, organizations to help combat this real, challenging issue.

 

Unfortunately, lots of research is coming out about the era of COVID and beyond and many of the things that we'll talk about today are just exacerbated as a result of COVID-19.

 

[00:09:43] RH:Yeah, we'll get to that. Let's start first just explaining what the most common forms of trauma could be in the clients that we're dealing with.

 

[00:09:54] JH:Yeah. And so, we work with children with special needs, and then this podcast, really geared towards parents of those children, therapists and educators who work with those children.

 

[00:10:06] JB:Absolutely. It doesn't matter again, what field you're in. If you're a caregiver or professional, trauma is going to be widespread. Most people have been impacted directly or indirectly by trauma at some point in their life. And again, it can be very harmful, for some. It’s a costly public health issue too. So, it has significant implications for just all of these systems of care.

 

There's a lot of different dimensions of trauma, you might have developmental trauma, sometimes it's used interchangeably with complex trauma. So, that's going to be experience of a trauma that happened earlier in childhood during those critical stages of development. A lot of times, it's cumulative, and it's repetitive. If these issues go unaddressed, it can, without a doubt, impact attention. So, a lot of times these kids may look like they have ADHD, or they also are diagnosed with ADHD.

 

In some cases that can contribute to that child being diagnosed with like a disruptive behavioral problem. It can impact their attention, their memory, their sleep. There's something called historical trauma. There's something called intergenerational trauma. We'll talk about the adverse childhood experiences today. Trauma is really an interesting topic. It's a complex topic, because you have single incident types of trauma, where maybe it's just a one time episode of an experiencing like a violent injury, or a car accident. I don't want to minimize a single incident trauma because they can be just as bad. But then you also have those complex, kind of chronic repetitive types of trauma. This could be a child growing up in a home, witnessing domestic violence between their caregivers. It could be ongoing maltreatment. Maybe some people are working with clients that have come from war torn countries, and they've dealt with like refugee types of trauma exposure.

 

When you think of kind of like a single incident trauma, sometimes it's referred to as like an acute trauma, that could be like a natural disaster. It could be a sudden loss, grief and loss issues, those kinds of things. When we dig deeper into, like, the complex types of trauma, and neglect would fall under that umbrella. Maybe it's forced displacement, structural racism, and then when we think about historical trauma, thinking of discrimination, racism, segregation, those kinds of things, all very important. I think, too, it's very important to realize that trauma can impact people very differently. You can have two people who've had the same exposure to a trauma, and their reactions to it can differ dramatically between each individual. And we can dig into that too, as well as to what are some of those reasons.

 

[00:13:01] JH: Okay, wow. I know, there are so many things.

 

[00:13:05] RH:So many facets.

 

[00:13:06] JH:I think, in my experience, what little I've done in trauma, research and trauma, was like everyone has trauma in their history, even if they feel like they've lived a relatively easy life. Maybe they're privileged, whatever the case is. At some point in their life, they had trauma, whether it was the death of a grandparent or you know, something that we wouldn't think of as traumatic because it's classified as normal.

 

[00:13:35] JB:Absolutely. Think of collective trauma too. We're all kind of going through collective trauma right now, in a way, the world with COVID-19, the uncertainty, the worry, the fear. Most people I know have known someone impacted by COVID. There are many people that have lost a loved one. If you're working in a healthcare industry, you probably are exposed to traumatic situations day in and day out. Just the excessive worry. If you're working in a hospital setting for not only your health, but when you go home, are you bringing the virus home to your family? So those are traumatic for individuals as well.

 

What about poverty? Homelessness? Maybe you're working with people who have been bullied or teased or victimized, even covert types of trauma where maybe someone shunned from a group of people. Maybe a child grew up in a home where they were chronically invalidated. Invalidation is really a form of trauma and that can lead to a host of issues as that person gets older. High levels of shame, worry, hopelessness. Those are just a few of the things to think about.

 

[00:14:45] JH:I'm just thinking about my trauma.

 

[00:14:48] RH: I was thinking of all the kiddos that I've worked with who who don't necessarily know or who their parents don't necessarily know that this is a huge component to their ability to function day to day.

 

[00:15:04] JH:Well, we don't talk about trauma when we look at these kiddos that we work with. Especially if you're going through an occupational therapy evaluation, I don't think that trauma is typically one of the questions that you answer in an eval for OT, at least.

 

[00:15:22] RH:Yeah. It should be.

 

[00:15:23] JB:Yeah, it should, because trauma exposure can absolutely impact sensory processing capabilities. I mean, the list goes on of all the negative effects that trauma can have. Because if a child grows up in a home, and they have extensive trauma, most of the time, not all the time, they may have some disrupted attachment patterns, and without having a solid attachment pattern, really think of attachment as the foundation of a house. If you're trying to build an intervention, or put the child into a group or whatever strategy you're using, if you don't take into account their trauma history and attachment representations, and if you're building strategies, interventions, treatment, and you're not taking into account that they have a fractured kind of attachment pattern or dealing with a lot of trauma triggers, that can lead to that individual not being as successful as they could be within whatever arena you're working with.

 

Because trauma can rob people of their joy. There's plenty of research to support the fact that people with expensive types of trauma, who don't receive the support and services they need, it can rob them of joy. It has a direct impact on creativity, it can absolutely deplete one's energy and contribute to fatigue, and motivation. Self-control issues are very, very common. So self-regulation deficits, self-control, something called inhibition. That's like our internal parking brake. It falls under the umbrella of executive function. Executive functions, kind of the CEO of the brain, it really guides the bus with behavior. It impacts sleep. If you're not sleeping well, all of these things are absolutely exacerbated. If that individual doesn't feel safe and secure, they can lead to trust issues to broken relationships. It may contribute to that individual not opening up to that counselor, a therapist or whoever is doing an interview with the person or an assessment. 

 

Unfortunately, if a professional is screening someone and they don't take into account trauma, they may jump to a conclusion that that person may be diagnosed with something he or she doesn't have. So, it could lead to misdiagnosis, over diagnosis, under diagnosis, and maybe at the core is trauma. A lot of times, it can look like they have ADHD, bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, the list goes on. But we really need to take into account what is a core issue? A lot of times, trauma is at the core of a lot of clients that people work with, especially with these complex needs.

 

[00:18:09] JH:So, can you give us an idea of what it would look like on how to identify trauma in these children that we work with?

 

[00:18:17] JB:There are a lot of symptoms of trauma, so maybe just a few. High levels of agitation. irritability can often be a symptom of trauma, concentration issues. So, if you're working in a school, you're working with young kids, and they're dealing with concentration issues, attention deficit, hyperactivity types of stuff, impulsivity, don't always jump to the conclusion that that child has ADHD. Could there be something else causing it?

 

I do a lot of work in the area of sleep disorders as well and a child who is chronically sleep deprived can often mimic ADHD like symptoms. What happens if that child is also dealing with co occurring trauma? Depression is common. Trust issues. Do they have a lot of excessive fear and worry? Fear that just doesn't add up or make sense to the clinician. Flashbacks. Do they carry around a lot of guilt? Do they seem to go like from 0 to 60 in a few seconds? So, really up and down mood swings.

 

Unfortunately, trauma can also contribute to loneliness. It can impact their memory. Be on the lookout for any self-destructive behaviors too. Are they starting to engage in like risk-taking behaviors? Things that could hurt themselves, or other people? Are they dealing with high levels of social anxiety? There's plenty of research to support the fact if you're working with people with high levels of social anxiety, there's a higher likelihood that there's probably some trauma in their history. Those are just a few of the red flag indicators to be on the lookout for.

 

[00:19:54] RH:Okay, can you tell us about an ACE score and how you kind of acquire an ACE score and what goes into that?

 

[00:19:59] JB:Yeah, I think to start, just if you're not familiar with ACEs, it’s Adverse Childhood Experiences. The first study was published in 1998. If you go to the CDC website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they have a very nice page on there that talks about the ACEs. They have a great video on there. They have a chart that really breaks down that first study.

 

When you think of ACEs, think of traumatic events that occurred to your client before the age of 18. Typically, it's going to be earlier in childhood. It can occur in many different forms. It's not just one type of trauma. When you think of ACEs, also think of toxic stress exposure. We'll talk about that a little bit today, too. But stress in and of itself is not a bad thing. When it reaches toxic stress where it's cumulative, and it becomes uncontrollable to that child, that can negatively impact brain development, body development, it can have a significant impact on immunity and growth.

 

When people deal with high levels of trauma in childhood, there's plenty of research to also show that that can cause chronic low-grade inflammation. Why in the world would you want to know about inflammation? Because inflammation is a driver in many diseases and disorders. Many mental health problems are often rooted in inflammation. Depression being one of them. So, what's the takeaway point from that? Learn about inflammation. Maybe it's referring your client to a nutritionist. Promoting good sleep. Promoting just good health and wellness, good habits, good routines. If these things go out of hand, this original ACEs study found that the higher number of traumas someone had in childhood, and if that child went through life without having proper supports, services and interventions, there's a greater likelihood that that individual will grow up and have more mental health problems, more learning challenges, and more physical health challenges to name a few.

 

When we think of ACEs, it's really broken down by like household dysfunction. So, did that child grow up in a home where there was high conflict divorce, and they were witnessing parents or caregivers, yelling and screaming. Is that child just fearful all the time? This research also looked at parental incarceration. Did that child have one or both caregivers in prison? It also examined parental mental health issues. So, give you lots of examples. A child growing up in a home where one or both parents was dealing with severe mental health issues, could that have led to neglect in some cases? So, this study looked at neglect, physical and emotional, but also looked at various forms of abuse, verbal, sexual, physical and emotional.

 

When we think of the topics that were part of this ACEs survey, where they started digging into respondents, and learning about their history of trauma, they asked questions that really dug deeper into that child's experience with did they have a lot of fear? Were they humiliated in the home? Did they just feel like they just did not have any stability? Were they exposed to any type of violence within their home? Neglect, separation, substance misuse by a family member? Those are just some of the domains to consider. Why is this topic important for us to really know about? Because again, think of the long-term implications this can have. A child who was exposed to trauma early on in life, and we also need to consider what was going on in utero. Was there any prenatal drug exposure? Alcohol exposure? We can talk about that today if you'd like as well.

 

But the research is pretty clear. The higher number of traumas in childhood, that person is at greater risk to grow up and possibly deal with major depression. At higher risk for suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder. There's also been research to show that it could increase cancer, chronic lung disease, sexually transmitted diseases, intergenerational transmissions of abuse also need to be taken into account. So, considering like the topics of epigenetics. Tons of social problems. There's some research that shows that people with a higher ACEs score may have a greater likelihood to become homeless as adults, greater contact with the criminal justice system, having employment problems and even higher broken bone histories to name a few. 

 

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[00:24:37] RH: We just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company, Harkla. Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs special needs live happy healthy lives. Not only do we accomplish this through the podcast, but we also have therapy products, easy to follow digital courses and the Harkla Sensory Club to try to bring holistic care to you and your family.

 

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[00:25:51] JH: You really can’t beat that.

 

[00:25:53] RH: No.

 

[00:25:53] JH: No, you can’t. Okay. Let’s go back to the show.

 

[INTERVIEW CONTINUES]

 

[00:25:58] JH:Okay, so this is all such great information. I want to kind of change tracks a little bit because I feel like this is all very sad and like, oh my gosh, there's so many things to take into account, there's so many things that could go wrong. So, can we switch gears a little bit and say like, “Here are some things that we can do to help these children who have experienced trauma.”

 

[00:26:26] JB:Absolutely. I always want to leave people on a positive note because there is help. It is imperative when we work with these families, children, whoever it is to learn about the bad side of it, but also learn about what we can do. Learning as much as we can about healthy, social, emotional development. What does that mean? Promoting prenatal care. If you're working with a woman who's pregnant, promoting prenatal care. Maybe she needs extra support services, maybe she struggles with transportation, she doesn't have good prenatal care.

 

As that child's born, helping that family system establish trust, playing behaviors, there's a lot of research on getting like people involved to understand like play therapy. Maybe it is a speech and language pathologist promoting language, getting the school involved. Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities is going to be very, very helpful as well for brain development. Modeling in teaching empathy, compassion, like moral development, so right and wrong. I think it's also important, it's very imperative when you're working with people that sense of trauma histories, to help promote self-regulation. Helping them learn how to put on the brakes. Helping them learn how to identify and manage really powerful emotions, because if they go through life, and that learning how to self-regulate, and maybe delay gratification, unfortunately, lots of consequences can result as well. Helping the client you're working with develop a positive sense of self-identity, promoting self-worth, utilizing trauma informed approaches, so never engaging in any shame-based approaches. Positive strengths-based approaches are so important.

 

I think promoting resilience. Resilience is a huge thing I talk about a lot in trainings I give. Resilience is the best way to really summarize what that is, is giving an equipping your client, the skills, the tools and the knowledge to be more flexible. Being able to bounce back from trauma, adversity, hardship. Resilience is so important when dealing with mental health challenges, dealing with grief and loss, dealing with trauma. And I think just from a health and wellness perspective, too, I mentioned this earlier, but maybe it's consultation with a nutritionist. Healthy eating is so important. Supporting gut health. There's a huge connection between digestive health issues, and brain-based impairments. And there's plenty of research to show that people with extensive trauma histories may have disruptions in their gastrointestinal regions.

 

So, helping them learn the importance of eating healthy, managing stress, getting a good night's sleep, just getting outside and getting fresh air, being in community. Lots of things that can help. I can go a lot deeper into that if you guys want.

 

[00:29:32] JH:That was perfect.

 

[00:29:34] RH:I love that. I agree with resiliency. I'm curious how, if you have any suggestions on how to facilitate resiliency in a child or in a kiddo or teach a family how to improve resiliency, because I don't know, I just think that it's such an important topic and I think that can help so many of our kiddos, but how would you facilitate that and encourage that?

 

[00:29:58] JB: From a professional lens, I always when I give trainings on these topics, just encourage people to always look through the lens of being kind, calm, patient and curious. I think starting there. Utilizing like motivational interviewing. If you have not gotten any training and motivational interviewing, highly recommend that incorporating attachment and trauma-based kind of interventions is going to be very helpful. So, we want to teach clients how to be more flexible, how they can be more gentle to themselves. So, having self-compassion is very important. The more they can have self-compassion, they're going to probably be more compassionate to those around them. Helping them learn how to control emotions. I'm not saying stuff it or minimize it, validating, empathetic listening, all of those things are so important. But helping the client learn how to put those brakes on to pause, reflect and not go by how they feel in that moment. Because if you're working with people who come off as very rigid, or harsh, or critical or inappropriate, or even over controlling, those are target areas to work on, and helping them move from those problematic approaches, and helping them shift more over to healthy approaches.

 

First and foremost, anytime I give a talk on this, if you have a client, or a family you're working with and they're not sleeping well, that should be a foundational thing to work on. Helping them learn sleep improvement strategies. Maybe it's a referral to a qualified sleep specialist. Maybe they would do well being referred to a professional who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. Get sleep under control, because if sleep is not good within that family system, it's almost like fuel on the fire. If we look at the research, most people with trauma histories, particularly extensive trauma histories, have either had or do have sleep related problems. So really work on sleep, and then build from there.

 

Maybe again, working with a nutritionist. I've worked with many individuals when we talk about like stress related eating. Are they engaging in stress related eating? Are you working with clients that are dealing with obesity? There's a huge link between childhood trauma and adult obesity. Why is that the case? In some cases, it could be neural chemical changes, it could be engaging in stress related eating habits. In some cases, it could be a trauma trigger, and they turn to food. So, are they using food as a coping mechanism? Incorporating exercise can help build resilience? The question comes up, why I have a client who has mobility issues? Okay, maybe working with a health care provider, maybe they engage in chair yoga, maybe they get a referral to like heated pool therapy, something like that.

 

When we talk about like yoga or things like that, thinking of deep breathing, movement-based exercises, getting outside. There's something called therapeutic gardening, the benefits of just gardening outside. There's actually quite a bit of literature on the benefits of referring clients to like drum-based interventions where you go to a group, and everyone's in a circle, and you're hitting drums and you're having discussions. There's actually been positive research on that as well. Animal assisted interventions, arch based approaches, music-based interventions. We could spend all day just on interventions. So, those are just a few of the things.

 

But if you can help that client, regulate their body, feel more rested, manage their fatigue, eat healthy, that in theory should help build resilience, and then forming positive community around them, being empathetic, knowing that person doesn't have to go through life alone dealing with this, and helping them understand that vulnerability is not a weakness. If they need help, teaching them how to ask for help. Those are just a few strategies I would recommend.

 

[00:34:05] JH:Oh, my gosh.

 

[00:34:05] RH:It’s amazing. There are so many good things. We wrote down so many notes while you were sharing that, and it's so cool. We're looking at each other like we've interviewed a lot of specialists who have done these different areas. We've done yoga, we've done drumming, we've done pool therapy, aquatic therapy. I don't even think we put two and two together that these would assist with kiddos and adults who have had traumatic backgrounds and who are dealing with trauma. So, that's really cool to know and to hear that, everything that we're doing, as I feel, that’s it all connected. It is all connected. I love it.

 

[00:34:49] JH:We have a couple more questions. One is and I think you mentioned this almost at the very beginning, but can you talk about trauma being passed down through generations or genetic trauma?

 

[00:35:02] JB:Yeah, this gets really deep in the weeds and I don't want to complicate this. But the best way to think about this start with fetal development, let's just start there. What is going on in utero? I do a lot of work in the area of prenatal substance exposure. But there's a lot of factors that can impact fetal development. Mother's nutritional habits, even maternal obesity has been shown to have negative consequences. Looking at some of the research on maternal adverse childhood experiences as well. If the mother has a very high ACEs score, in some cases, that can impact that developing child in utero. Genetics. Was the mother dealing with any type of diseases or infections?

 

There's a whole bunch of literature on environmental toxins. Prenatal led exposure, prenatal mercury exposure, when would that come up? If you're working with a woman who has been in long term chronic homelessness, and living in situations that are very, very scary, maybe it's mold exposure. Those are things that need to be taken into account. What kind of medications is she on, or the lack thereof? So those are just a few things to think about when we think of prenatal development.

 

Now, as we get into like intergenerational transmission of trauma, if you look at this literature, in some cases, it's been referred to more as like multi-generational trauma, historical or cultural trauma, but it can be transmitted through parenting behaviors as well and it can really have a negative impact on gene expression. We could spend a whole day talking about epigenetics as well, that would be a whole another line of just a talk we could do in the future if you guys wanted to do something else. But epigenetics, really think of this as kind of that field of study that what turns on the light switch? I've heard it referred to this in the research literature. What environmental factors really turn on the light switch for genes or turn them off.

 

A good example would be if someone went through extensive trauma early in life, that can turn on that light switch and negatively impact kind of more gene expression. And that can be passed down through generations through like more chemical markers that happen on kind of that neurobiological, neurochemical lens. When we think of these things, too, it's very important to also understand the topic of telomeres. I'm not sure if your audiences had any training in telomeres –

 

[00:37:36] RH:We haven’t had that.

 

[00:37:37] JB:But extensive trauma exposure – yeah, it's a fascinating topic. It's called telomeres. It's T-E-L-O-M-E-R-E-S, telomeres. So, trauma has been shown to shorten the length of telomeres, and telomeres are those protective caps at the end of the chromosomes. So, it's on a very cellular level. Why do we want to care about that? Think of inflammation, as we talked about earlier. People with extensive trauma histories, and they have shortened telomeres, this can on that biochemical level, accelerate the aging process, and it can contribute to early mortality. So, huge things and people with PTSD histories have been shown to have shorter telomere lengths.

 

When we're thinking of inflammation, also think about metabolic abnormalities, telomere erosion, and even mitochondrial dysfunction. I don't want to bore you guys with all these topics. But mitochondrial dysfunction would be a whole another line of literature for people to really be aware of, if you want to become trauma informed at a deep level, because mitochondrial dysfunction is really at that cellular level. Think of this as if someone has dysfunction in all these areas, inflammation, oxidative stress of toxic stress exposure over the long haul, can increase blood sugar regulation issues. It can lead to a host of physical, emotional, behavioral health challenges. So, I've been deep, kind of microscopic cellular level. This is what kind is going on for that individual as to why he or she may have a lot of health problems.

 

One other thing I'll say about this, another term for your audience to be aware of, it's called allostatic load, A-L-L-O-S-T-A-T-I-C. Allostatic load is really just a fancy way of saying that – what’s the wear and tear that these things are having on the person's body, and toxic stress exposure contributes to allostatic load so it's just that wear and tear. So, pretend it's a car. If you're driving really fast turning corners and hitting your brakes a lot, your tires are going to wear out very quickly. That's probably a good analogy of what happens in the body. If you have extensive trauma histories, you're dealing with chronic obesity, you don't exercise, you eat terribly, you're using alcohol, drugs. You just don't ever sleep. That puts more wear and tear on the body.

 

So, what do you do? You do the opposite of those things. Live a healthier lifestyle, seek therapy, work with occupational therapist, work with a nutritionist, work with your medical doctor. It's not going to be just one professional that can tackle these. We have to do it as a team and not everyone can have expertise in these areas. So, we really do it from a multi-disciplinary lens.

 

[00:40:29] RH:I guess that was my next thought was there's all of these things, all of these challenges. I want our audience whether you're a parent listening, or a therapist listening, there are so many ways that you can address trauma, whether it's your kiddo, yourself, your clients, your caseload. So, Jerrod, what would you say is the first thing to do for parents? What would be your first piece of advice for a parent who either has trauma themselves or they're recognizing some trauma in their child? What would you say the first thing to do would be?

 

[00:41:06] JB:It would be okay to seek professional help guidance, but create stability, safety structure, and predictability within that family system. Not to be rigid or harsh. There's a whole bunch of research on harsh parenting practices, we don't want to do that. Being warm, kind, firm, but gentle and those are really rooted in attachment based and trauma-based approaches. So, maybe it's working with an attachment-based therapist. Maybe it's working with a trauma focused therapist. Maybe you have a child with special needs who's nonverbal. So maybe it's working with a speech language pathologist. Maybe it's equine therapy. Maybe it's animal assisted therapy.

 

Most of kids with extensive trauma histories are probably going to be dealing with sensory processing issues. So, working with sensory processing people as well. But bringing the team together, helping everyone be able to communicate together from a team mindset. But when we're thinking of this through the lens of trauma informed care, safety, and stability is kind of that bedrock, and you build from there. If that child or adult does not feel safe, valued, respected, it's going to be very hard to build on that. So, if that person's dealing with high levels of fear, address that, name it, validate it, respect that, understand that, because there's so many trauma triggers people deal with. That's another thing I think, for us to really be aware of, is trauma triggers.

 

If we don't understand trauma triggers, loud noises, for example, could trigger a child. You want to take into account what's going on, bright lights, maybe it's certain hand gestures, someone talking too fast. Maybe the child's triggered by a male. Maybe they're triggered by a female. Confusion and chaos can be a trauma trigger for some people. Changes in routine. I have a friend who is a professional who has a child on the autism spectrum and she's really talked about how a lot of what's going on with COVID, and the changes in routine have really triggered this individual's kind of reactions to trauma. Certain smells, certain textures, those kinds of things can all be trauma triggers.

 

I hate to say it too, when we look at this through a sleep lens, maybe you're working with children in the child welfare adoption arena. Have they been from home to placement over and over? Maybe they had a history of trauma in a bedroom, and they now associate the bedroom with trauma. Do they have a fear of the dark? All of those things need to be taken into account. If we don't, things can become really dysregulated quite quickly. So, being aware of all these things. I know it's a lot we could spend a whole week talking about these topics. But hopefully planting the seeds to point some of you in the right direction, knowing that we need to do this with lots of professionals. A team approach is probably the best way to do this.

 

[00:44:01] JH:No, I think that's great advice is to seek out help, because we can't do it by ourselves. Just like you said, we need a team approach. So, that's perfect for our parents. For our therapists, our educators and other professionals listening, are there any specific courses or trainings that we can take to help us better help our clients who are experiencing trauma?

 

[00:44:27] JB:Probably several programs out there. There are graduate programs, there are graduate certificates, there are online trainings, there are online certification. So, if you just Google trauma-based trainings, adverse childhood experiences trainings, there are so much out there. There are several wonderful talks on YouTube. You just type in adverse childhood experiences, TED Talks, you'll find quite a few. There's been several journal articles, several books. There are lots of organizations that have a number of different resources online. The CDC, as I mentioned, I think early on has a great page that focuses specifically on the ACEs research, and it talks about different tips, strategies, solutions. So that would be a good starting point as well, looking at the CDC page.

 

[00:45:15] JH:Perfect.

 

[00:45:15] RH:Yeah. I know Jerrod, you've also done quite a few trainings for therapists, for continuing education through sensational brain.

 

[00:45:22] JB:Correct. Yes.

 

[00:45:24] JH:Look how humble he is. [Crosstalk 00:45:28]

 

[00:45:33] JB:Feel free to share more, I can dig deeper into that. But yeah, it's a great organization. I highly recommend checking it out a number of different trauma trainings on there. Going to be doing several more. We take a deep dive into a lot of the topics that we've talked about today. I know we're putting together a few trainings coming up that are specifically on how does trauma impact children and adults with autism. We're doing another one on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and how that impacts trauma. I know we've done a one on theory of mind, that's a huge topic that I wish we could spend a lot of time on too. But theory of mind really relates to social perspective taking, and the research is clear too, extensive trauma histories impact one's theory of mind abilities. If you don't take that into account, too, that can really contribute to social issues. It's very common among people on the autism spectrum. But if you're working people with trauma histories, brain injury histories, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, you're probably going to come into contact with theory of mind deficits as well.

 

[00:46:36] RH:I did have one last question, one more specific question about sensory processing. Have you come across any research connecting sensory processing challenges or sensory processing disorder and trauma?

 

[00:46:47] JB:Yeah, there's actually quite a few out there. I'm not a sensory specialist. But when we think of this, trauma is almost fuel on the fire. So, trauma has been shown to contribute to more unexplained behaviors. What happens if that child early on in life, the trauma contributed to that person having a head injury on top of that, and now this contributes to mood regulation issues. Being on the lookout for hyper arousal symptoms, so the symptoms that are kind of really more reactive, maybe they're more frantic, they could be very explosive, they have unmodulated voice tones, they're unaware of their emotional states, they might have poor body awareness. They may bump into things, they might have a difficult time navigating stairs, they may laugh and scream one minute and cry the next. Be on the lookout for those fight or flight or freeze responses.

 

Those hyper arousal, high intensity symptoms. On the flip side of that, trauma can also contribute to hypo arousal symptoms. So, maybe you're working with clients, who are seeing very sluggish, low energy. They come off as very hopeless, helpless, they just seem very slow information processing. A good takeaway point, if you're doing an interview with someone, and they have slow information processing, don't overwhelm the individual. That can contribute to sensory problems in and of itself. Ask one question at a time. Be okay with long pauses. You might have a 22nd pause before you ask the next question. They can come off as very passive. They can come off as very slow response. So, to the untrained professional, in some cases, this could look like that individual does not want to be there. They're not taking it seriously. They might be lazy, when in fact, maybe they're dealing with untreated trauma.

 

If it's a school teacher, too, I encourage you, that's why I always say stay curious. What is behind these behaviors that on the surface look like? Maybe that child doesn't want to be in the classroom or learn. Could they be dealing with untreated trauma? Could they be dealing with an untreated sleep disorder? Could they be dealing with something else untreated? Dig deeper. Stay curious, work with your team. Maybe it's a referral to specialists working with family members. Because more we can understand these topics and address them and identify what's truly going on early in life, we're going to set that person up for greater success as he or she gets older.

 

[00:49:23] RH:Wow.

 

[00:49:25] JH:So many good things.

 

[00:49:24] RH:So much advice. This has been so helpful. I mean, Jerrod, I've known you for a while. I still learn from you every time we chat and every time you share your knowledge. So, thank you for that.

 

[00:49:38] JB:Thank you. Thank you so much.

 

[00:49:40] RH:Yeah, I guess I have one last question, which is, how can parents and therapists and educators take advantage of all of your knowledge and connect with you and learn more about what you're doing?

 

[00:49:54] JB:I do a lot of training, consultation for lots of organizations and sometimes caregivers and stuff. So, people can email me. I always get back to people. I'm more than happy to talk with you individually. Rach, are you willing to share my email with the group? 

 

[00:50:10] RH:Yeah, if you're okay with that, absolutely.

 

[00:50:14] JB:Definitely. I’m glad and yeah, if you have thoughts or questions, anything I can clarify on what I said today, if you're looking for some supplemental readings, if you're looking for retraining, shoot me an email. I can give you my cell phone an email, and I'll be glad to chat with you.

 

[00:50:30] RH:Perfect.

 

[00:50:30] JH:We’ll just link everything in the show notes so that all of our listeners can go there for all the links.

 

[00:50:36] RH:Yes. So good. Well, Jerrod, we have enjoyed chatting with you so much. Thank you again, for sharing all of your knowledge. Is there anything else?

 

[00:50:44] JH:I don't think so. That was great information. I think that every single person who listens to this episode is going to learn something and then be able to take action from it.

 

[00:50:54] RH:That's the biggest thing. Take action.

 

[00:50:58] JH: Thank you so much.

 

[00:50:58] JB:Thank you so much for allowing me to be on your fantastic program. Thank you, everyone who ever listened. I know it's a big topic. It can be overwhelming with all of these terms, I said and different sub types. Take it slow. I think start basic, just becoming familiar with the basics. If you want a good recommended reading list, if you want to take your knowledge to that next level, shoot me an email anytime I can give you a whole list of really good readings. 

 

[00:51:27] JH:That's right up my alley. I want all the book recommendations. So, that will be great.

 

[00:51:27] RH:All right. Thank you so much, Jerrod. We will chat soon. Okay?

 

[00:51:34] JB:You bet. Thank you, everyone.

 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 

[00:51:37] RH:That was fantastic.

 

[00:51:39] JH:I know just listening to him talk, I'm just imagining all of these scenarios in my head of like, my trauma, my son's trauma, my friend’s trauma, my parent’s trauma, everybody I know. You have trauma, you get trauma, you get trauma, you get trauma.

 

[00:51:57] RH:It's just amazing how it's also different for everyone. Some people hide it better than others and some people function better than others and some people really struggle and for therapists, holy cow. This is so important to take into consideration when you're evaluating clients and parents. This is also so important to recognize that you might have trauma, but there are things that you can do to help.

 

[00:52:24] JH:Yeah. I was just thinking about I love that he brought up school and educators. Because if you're having challenges with a certain student, look at the why, be curious. Is it because of something that's going on at home that's causing a trauma-based response? So, I like being curious and then taking action.

 

[00:52:48] RH:Yes. So, take action by heading to our show notes, downloading our freebie that we have here, looking at the research articles we have listed, that Jerrod shared with us. Just start diving into this information and learning as much as you can.

 

[00:53:03] JH:Yeah. Let us know your thoughts on this topic. Let us know your thoughts on what you're doing to help with your trauma. Because I think I feel like it's kind of a taboo topic still, like nobody talks about trauma. So, let's start talking about it more because we all have it. So, let's make it less scary.

 

[00:53:26] RH:There we go.

 

[00:53:29] JH:There's your action item for the day.

 

[00:53:32] RH:Yes. If you have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to us. Don't hesitate to reach out to Jerrod. He so kindly provided his email, and courses through sensational brain. There are so many ways to learn. So, go do it. Thank you for listening. We appreciate all of you so much.

 

[00:53:49] JH:We will talk to you again next week.

 

[00:53:51] RH:Okay, bye.

 

[00:53:54] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Things Sensory by Harkla. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the show notes. 

 

[00:54:04] JH:We always have the show notes and links, plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone. If you have followed up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the show notes or message us on our Instagram account, which is at @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you’ll find us.

 

[00:54:24] RH:Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10% off their first order at Harkla, whether it’s for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code SENSORY will save you 10%. That code is S-E-N-S-O-R-Y. Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now so you don’t forget.

 

[00:54:47] JH:We’re so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a happier healthier life.

 

[00:54:53] RH:All right. We’ll talk to you guys next week.

 

[DISCLAIMER]

 

[00:54:57] RH:Just a friendly reminder, this is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics, and sensory integration. We do not know your or your child, therefore, we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information.

 

 

 

BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS

While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.


This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC and Jessica Hill, COTA/L both Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA). They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. Rachel and Jessica specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Rachel and Jessica are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Rachel and Jessica, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.


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