ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are a collection of potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood that could result in increased risk of physical health, psychology, and social problems in adulthood. According to the organization Prevent Child Abuse in America, there are ten adverse childhood experiences that are defined by the following categories:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Violence against a mother
- Parental divorce
- Household member with substance use/abuse issues
- Household member with mental illness
- Incarcerated household member (Merrick and Klika 2021)
These long term stressors in a child’s life can lead to permanent or damaging effects on a person’s health, as well as, healthy child development (Merrick and Klika 2021). The results of having a high ACE score vary among many different aspects regarding health. When a child is exposed to chronic stress, it can lead to a low tolerance for stressful situations in adulthood. This could cause unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse, PTSD, or other mental illnesses. ACEs can also be linked to health conditions including, but not limited to depression, asthma, anxiety, High Blood Pressure or diabetes. The risk for developing heart disease, lung disease, and cancer is also greater for people with high ACE scores. ACEs can also have a negative impact on education, job opportunities, and earning potential in young adults. You can take the ACE
Assessment and find out your own score here (Adverse Childhood Experiences 2021). During the assessment, each question addresses each of the ten childhood traumas or experiences. For each question that is answered “yes” is one point added to your ACEs score. The more the score increases, the higher the risk of obtaining the previously mentioned health conditions.
- ACEs tend to be handed down from generation to generation this is referred to as Generationally Transferred Trauma
- 60% of children in the U.S. have 2 or more aces
- ⅔ of our population are exposed to childhood adversity/trauma which leads to multiple negative effects like heart disease, short life expectancy (20 years earlier), etc.
- Two or more ACEs leads to double the risk for autoimmune diseases
- 4 or more aces increases risk for 8/10 leading causes of death in the US
- 4 or more aces means one is 10 times more likely to have substance abuse issues
- 1.9 million cases of heart disease and 21 million cases of depression could have been potentially avoided by preventing ACEs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021)
It is important to remember that the negative effects of ACEs are preventable and that one person is not inevitably doomed in their adult life due to child adversities. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships are extremely important. Just one person with a healthy relationship to the child can make a significant difference towards the child developing PCEs (Positive Childhood Experiences. PCEs are extremely beneficial to a child’s healthy development and wellbeing. PCEs can mitigate, or even prevent ACEs.
PCEs include four categories:
- nurturing, supportive relationships
- living, developing, playing, and learning in safe, stable, protective, and equitable environments
- opportunities for constructive social engagement and connectedness
- learning social and emotional competencies.
Understanding the importance of these experiences in a child’s life could prevent the negative outcomes of ACEs.