Impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences
An adverse childhood experience (ACE) describes a stressful or traumatic experience in a person’s life occurring before the age of 18 that the person remembers as an adult. They can include abuse, neglect and a range of household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence, or growing up with substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adverse childhood experiences have been linked to health issues, including:
- risky health behaviors
- chronic health conditions
- low life potential
- early death.
As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes. ACEs also affect an individual’s ability to learn. Children who are exposed to adverse childhood experiences may become overloaded with stress hormones, leaving them in a constant state of hyper-vigilance to environmental and relational threats. This may lead to difficulty focusing on school work and consolidating new memory, making it harder for them to learn at school. Approximately one in four children have experienced significant ACEs. A study by the Area Health Education Center of Washington State University found that students with at least three ACEs are three times as likely to experience academic failure, six times as likely to have behavioral problems, and five times as likely to have attendance problems. These students may have trouble trusting teachers and other adults, and may have difficulty creating and maintaining relationships.
Calculating Your ACE Score
ACE scores for individuals are determined through the use of a questionnaire.It consists of 10 questions, each of which is answered with a simple yes or no response. A yes response has a score of 1; a no response has a score of 0. The sum of these responses is your ACE score. Download a PDF version of the ACE Questionnaire. A higher score means a higher potential risk for the individual.
Measuring Resilience is Important, Too
Not all children with high ACEs scores wind up having severe health or social problems. While the ACEs questionnaire measures negative factors affecting a child’s development, it does not measure positive factors. Another type of questionnaire has been developed which tries to capture positive factors in a child’s life that may mitigate the effect of ACEs. One such questionnaire can be found be at: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/.
The American Psychological Association has developed a list of factors that can help build resilience in individuals who have experienced childhood trauma. One of the most important factors is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience. Other factors that are associated with resilience, include:.
- The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
- A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
- Skills in communication and problem solving.
- The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
- All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.
Researchers are discovering that early awareness and intervention can help children develop resilience even in the face of traumatic events.