December 1987

Life Threat and Posttraumatic Stress in School-age Children

Author Affiliations

From the Program in Preventive Intervention in Trauma, Violence, and Bereavement in Childhood (Dr Pynoos and Ms Nader) and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Drs Pynoos, Frederick, Steinberg, Eth, and Fairbanks), Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, UCLA; the Psychology Service (Dr Frederick) and Mental Health Clinic (Dr Eth), Veterans Administration Medical Center, West Los Angeles, Calif; Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences (Drs Arroyo and Eth), University of Southern California, Los Angeles; the Psychiatry Service, Sepulveda (Calif) Veterans Administration Medical Center (Dr Steinberg); and the Department of Psychology, Los Angeles Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic (Dr Nunez).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1987;44(12):1057-1063. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1987.01800240031005

• One hundred fifty-nine children (14.5% of the student body) were sampled after a fatal sniper attack on their elementary school playground. Systematic self-reports of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were obtained by use of a child PTSD Reaction Index. Analysis of variance revealed significant differences by exposure but not by sex, ethnicity, or age. Additional analyses were conducted of individual item response, overall severity of PTSD reaction, symptom grouping, and previous life events. The results provide strong evidence that acute PTSD symptoms occur in school-age children with a notable correlation between proximity to the violence and type and number of PTSD symptoms. Sampling at approximately one month after the trauma provided adequate delineation among exposure groups. The symptom profile of highly exposed children lends validity to the diagnosis of acute PTSD in childhood.