• What Everyone Who Loves Kids Should Understand about the ACE Study

    traumatized children

    Children experience many kinds of trauma as they grow up. Some traumas are ongoing, such as abuse or illness. Other types of trauma are sudden and singular, like the death of a family member or a natural disaster.

    Traumas are processed as losses for children:  loss of safety,  loss of identity, or loss of a relationship.

    An adverse childhood experience is a traumatic event that occurs before a young person turns 18. In 1995, Kaiser Permanente began to study the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and those children’s later adult health. Ten categories were determined to be adverse childhood experiences. Five are personal:

    • Physical abuse
    • Verbal abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Physical neglect
    • Emotional neglect

    Five are related to other family members:

    • A parent who’s an alcoholic
    • A mother who’s a victim of domestic violence
    • One or no parent in the home (divorce, death, abandonment)
    • A parent who’s incarcerated
    • A family member with mental illness

    More than 17,000 people participated in the ACE Study. They were mostly white, middle and upper-middle class college-educated urbanites with good jobs and great health care. According to Kaiser’s findings, a stunning link exists between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma you’ve experienced. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems.

    As your ACE score increases, so does the risk of disease, social, and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. For instance,

    • For women, the risk of need for antidepressants by the age of 50 increases to 100%.
    • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of COPD in adulthood increases by almost 20%.
    • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of serious financial problems in adulthood increases by approximately 23%.
    • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of teen pregnancy increases by 40%.
    • With an ACE score of 4 or more, the risk of being raped later in life increases by more than 30%.

    At the same time that the ACE Study was being done, parallel research on kids’ brains found that toxic stress physically damages a child’s developing brain. This was determined by a group of neuroscientists and pediatricians, including neuroscientist Martin Teicher and pediatrician Jack Shonkoff, both at Harvard University, neuroscientist Bruce McEwen at Rockefeller University, and pediatrician Bruce Perry at the Child Trauma Academy.

    Fortunately, we are more than the sum of our negative experiences. Resilience and nurture also play critical roles in thriving and childhood development. Resilience includes factors such as asking for help, developing trusting relationships, forming a positive attitude, listening to feelings.

    For more information on the ACE Study, click HERE.

    To take a test for learn your resilience score, click HERE.

    What does the ACE Study tell you about the relationship between your childhood and your adult health or the health of someone you know or love?


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