Robert Pynoos, a nationally recognized child psychiatrist who directs the UCLA trauma center along with Saunders, said it is easy for adults to overlook the traumas that children experience "as if they didn't appraise the threat for what it was."
At the same time, he thinks that, since children do not know how to drive, their sense of helplessness may actually be greater.
Although many psychiatrists believe that the disorder often goes undiagnosed in children and adults, some clinicians believe the number of people at risk of developing it has been overestimated in recent studies. Mark Levy, a forensic psychiatrist who teaches at UC San Francisco, said the promise of multimillion-dollar pain and suffering awards has prompted personal injury lawyers to seek post-traumatic stress diagnoses for their clients.
"It's a fairly new idea that PTSD is in the 25% incidence range, so for auto accidents I would think it is an inflated figure driven by compensation and the plaintiff's bar," Levy said. "The fact that someone was shook up or even had some symptoms doesn't mean they have PTSD."