What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
There’s a lot of discussion in the Education field about “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are particular traumatic events that occur during childhood before the age of 18. When children experience trauma and educators understand its impact, trauma-informed interventions can be developed, which reduces the resulting negative consequences. Communities have also become involved in decreasing ACEs, preventing abuse and mistreatment, and creating more positive outcomes for children and their families (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).
Childhood trauma research conducted in the 1990s discovered a connection between the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences one has and the number of adverse outcomes they experience as adults. These resulting negative results included physical health, medical issues, mental illness, addiction, and risk-taking behaviors. The original ACE Study was conducted from 1995 to 1997 by Kaiser Permanente with two waves of data collection from over 17,000 HMO members. The study found that experiencing a traumatic childhood not only significantly impacts the probability that the individual will suffer from future health issues, but indicates a higher likelihood of further adult victimization as well.
The data collection questionnaire used for gathering the ACE data is known as the “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) quiz,” and the score is the total count of specific indicators of a turbulent childhood. The harsher the childhood, the higher the score, and the higher the risk for health and other problems later on, including risk-taking behaviors, chronic health conditions, mental illness, substance abuse, decreased or limited life-potential, and early death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019).
Why are Adverse Childhood Experiences important?
Adverse Childhood Experiences are the environmental influences that challenge a child’s sense of safety, stability, and attachment. They include but are not limited to physical and verbal abuse, neglect, addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, and violence.
The data collection questionnaire used for gathering the ACE data is known as the “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) quiz,” and the score is the total count of specific indicators of a turbulent childhood. The harsher the childhood, the higher the score, and the higher the risk for health and other problems later in life such as risk-taking behaviors, chronic health conditions, mental illness, substance abuse, decreased or limited life-potential, and early death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019).
The ACE quiz measures 10 types of childhood trauma, five of which are personal: physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, and physical or emotional neglect. The remaining five are related to family members, for example, an alcoholic parent, family member affected by domestic violence, incarcerated family member, mentally ill family member, or living in a single-parent household due to divorce, death, or abandonment. There are many kinds of childhood trauma, but only 10 are included in the ACE quiz because they were the most frequently mentioned by the members of the research group.
Each kind of traumatic experience scores one point. For example, a person who’s been verbally abused and has one mentally ill parent, and lives in a single-parent home has an ACE score of three.
If other types of abuse or neglect were experienced, including extended periods of toxic stress, those would also increase the likelihood of compromised health in adulthood.
The ACE score is only a guideline. Positive childhood experiences can protect against many of the adverse outcomes, even after the trauma has occurred. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016). Some people who have high ACE scores, including myself, can recover and do well as adults. Resilience, a subject of ongoing research, is thought to be a key component to recovery.
Where can I take the ACE quiz?
If you’re interested in taking the Adverse Childhood Experiences quiz, you’ll find it here.
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, author Diane Metcalf developed strong coping skills and healing strategies. She happily shares those with others who want to learn and grow.
Diane is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on family dysfunction, and narcissism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology. She has worked in numerous human service fields, including domestic violence and partner abuse.
She has authored four transformational books about healing and moving forward, including the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series. This emotionally supportive collection explains maternal narcissistic traits and teaches how to reconcile past hurts to begin self-nurturing, healing and moving forward.
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She writes about strategies for recovering and moving on from hurtful people and painful, dysfunctional, or toxic relationships on The Toolbox blog.
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