Accommodation Solutions Online

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that generally occurs after seeing or living through a dangerous or traumatic event.
In a dangerous situation, fear triggers a physical response to either flee from the danger or to defend against the danger. People who have PTSD have persistent feelings of stress or fright even when they are no longer in danger. Students who have PTSD include survivors of physical or sexual assault or abuse, accidents, disasters, combat or other serious events. Others get PTSD after a friend or family member is harmed or they experience the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. Students with PTSD experience flashbacks reliving the trauma that can be triggered by words, objects or situations that are reminders of the original trauma. They often avoid engaging in events or going places that are reminders of the experience. Students who have experienced physical abuse or assault may be hyper vigilant and avoid being touched or startle easily. Having such responses are not unusual after a traumatic event but in a student with PTSD the responses persist for months or years.

Observing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Classroom

Faculty may observe the following in students with post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • May startle easily
  • May react emotionally to discussions that trigger reminders of the trauma (e.g. low noises, descriptions of abuse or assault)
  • May avoid activities that could trigger memories
  • May exhibit hypervigilance
  • May have difficulty with concentration


Related Functional Characteristics

Anxiety : Students with PTSD express anxiety most commonly as panic attacks, sensitivity to touch, hypervigilance, or irritability caused by a past traumatic event.

Fatigue (Cognitive) : Students with PTSD experience cognitive fatigue as a result of their hypervigilance, lack of ability to concentrate or side effects of medication.

Fatigue (Physical) : Students with PTSD may experience physical fatigue due to insomnia or poor sleep quality.

Restlessness (Physical) : Sitting still for long periods of time may be difficult for individuals with PTSD because of their hyperarousal (fight or flight stress response).

Sensory Distractibility : Students with PTSD often have the hypervigilant form of distractibility, so they must exert more effort to concentrate because they are also monitoring their environment for possible triggers.

Service Animal Needs : Students with PTSD have service animals to assist them through episodic anxiety attacks.

Touch Oversensitivity : Students with PTSD may be easily startled by unexpected touch due to hypervigilance, and may overreact to unexpected physical contact (e.g. being tapped on the shoulder).

The Building Accepting Campus Communities (BACC) project was funded by the US Department of Education Office of Secondary Education grant #P333A080070-09. The University of Nebraska does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.