Adverse Childhood Experiences
How ACEs Affect Children and their Potential
Traumatic experiences in life are sometimes unavoidable. A family member or close friend dies, you become seriously injured, or your house and all your belongings are lost in a natural disaster. Unfortunately, bad experiences don’t only happen to adults, either. It is extremely important that school administrators and educators understand trauma’s potential effects on children; if they don’t, they may misinterpret a cry for help for simple disobedience, and punish the child for a natural coping mechanism, thereby making the child’s situation worse.
How does childhood trauma affect a person’s health and education?
The effects of stress and/or traumatic events on a child’s development can vary greatly, depending on the age of the child, the severity and recurrence of the event, how (and how quickly) it is resolved, among many other factors. Mild and isolated stressors are more easily manageable, and can actually have a positive impact on the child, by giving them the ability and confidence to solve or cope with other problems in the future.
More serious stressors, however, can permanently change a child’s development, and leave them with lasting negative effects, even into adulthood. Although the brain continues to adapt and develop into adulthood (about age 25) 80 percent of a person’s brain is already developed before he or she turns two, and much of a person’s core personality traits (e.g. introversion or extroversion) are set in place by age eight (Source: www.developingchild.harvard.edu).
A 1990 study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Health on the impact of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) found that “toxic stress” and trauma early in life that caused a child’s stress response system to be activated for extended periods of time predictably led to chronic health issues in adulthood (including heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, substance abuse and depression), in addition to compromised immune systems and an increase rate of aging. The more ACEs a child has in life, the more likely he or she is to have health problems in the future.
Robert W. Block, a pediatrician and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Children’s exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences is the greatest unaddressed public health threat of our time.” If parents, guardians and teachers can learn to recognize ACEs in children, they may be able to help them live a much healthier, happier life for years to come.
It is extremely important that school administrators and educators understand trauma’s potential effects on children. Click to Tweet
How do you recognize ACEs?
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a collaborative project between Duke University and UCLA, has developed a survey system to help people determine their “ACE score” that lists types of traumatic events (such as a loss of loved one, parental divorce, sexual or physical abuse, etc.), and helps people count how many they’ve experienced before age 18. The researchers hypothesize that about 66 percent of Americans experience at least one traumatic event before age 18 and about 20 percent will have experienced three or more. Having four or more ACEs before age 18 increases one’s likelihood of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and researchers suggest it makes a person 12 times more likely to attempt suicide. Those with an ACE score of six or greater are said to “predictably die 20 years younger than the rest of the population.”
Aces Too High is a news organization devoted to sharing information exclusively on adverse childhood experiences. They have a copy of the survey to determine one’s ACE score available at https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score. If you or someone you care about have a high ACE score, it’s not the end of the world. The human body and mind are constantly healing and adapting to their environment. Wounds inflicted in the past can be healed in the future.
The first step is to connect with people who care about you and can support you. Family and friends are often good resources, but for more professional and direct help, psychologists, family practitioners, social workers and law enforcement ate there to help.
Educational and judicial systems are also adapting, and more programs are being implemented to promote trauma awareness. Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is a program intended to shape the way teachers and schools administrators interact with and discipline kids. Teachers are taught to recognize trauma-indicative behaviors in children, practice ways to connect with their students, develop a support system of teachers and school administrates for the child to seek help from, and formulate an appropriate discipline strategy that will address the behavior but not punish the child for experiencing trauma.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is a national program of unpaid volunteers to help advocate for abused and neglected children, and help them in their journey to find a healthy, safe and loving home. Adults who are 21, available to appear in court multiple times, and wish to help traumatized children can do so through CASA after only a background check and a 30-hour training course.
The second step in the healing process is to get yourself or another traumatized person out of the situation that traumatized them in the first place. This sometimes means major life changes, such as moving out of a household or cutting contact with certain individuals in one’s life, but sometimes small changes in one’s daily life can also have a dramatically positive effect. Taking time to self-reflect, relaxing with an activity you enjoy, eating a healthy diet, exercising, spending time outdoors and spending time with people who you enjoy and who want what’s best for you are often the best medicines.