What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
There’s a lot of discussion in the Education field today about “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs) are certain kinds of traumatic events that occur during childhood before the age of 18.
Childhood trauma research conducted in the ’90s discovered that there is a connection between the number of ACEs a person experiences and adverse adult outcomes. The resulting negative results included physical health and medical issues, mental illness, addiction, and risk-taking behaviors. The original ACE Study was conducted from 1995 to 1997 at Kaiser Permanente. There were 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.
When children experience trauma and educators can 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).
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.
Trauma bonds can keep us stuck in codependency. The first step to breaking a trauma bond is becoming aware that one exists. Gaslighting, cognitive dissonance, and trauma bonding all contribute to developing a disorder called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Conscious awareness: Be aware and make conscious choices before acting. Self-awareness releases us from making impulsive and potentially damaging decisions.
Self-care: We can only choose to focus on and be responsible for ourselves, our own thoughts, actions, and behavior. The good news is that we can change ourselves with patience, persistence, and practice. We can take responsibility for getting our needs met, instead of waiting for someone to change or meet our needs for us. We are in control of ourselves and no one is responsible for us but us.
Understand the abuse cycle
Learn about codependency
Learn about letting go of what you can’t control, by using loving-detachment
Learn about expectations
About the author
Diane Metcalf earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 1982 and a Master of Science in Information Technology in 2013.
She has held Social Worker, Counselor and Managerial Positions in the fields of Domestic Violence and Abuse, Geriatric Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Reproductive Health. She is an experienced Advocate and Speaker on the topics of Domestic Violence and Abuse and has been a guest on Lockport Community Television (LCTV), sharing her knowledge and experience regarding Domestic Abuse with the local community. In addition, she experienced Maternal Narcissistic Abuse and has been involved in other toxic relationships. She purposefully learned (and continues to learn) appropriate coping skills and strategies to live happily. She shares those insights here.
Her books and articles are the results of her education, knowledge, and personal insight regarding her own abusive experiences and subsequent recovery work. She is no longer a practicing Social Worker, Counselor, Program Manager or Advocate, nor is she or has she ever been a licensed psychologist.
Currently, Diane runs her own website design company, Image and Aspect, and writes articles and tutorials for Tips and Snips, her inspirational blog for creative people. She continues to learn and write about Emotional Healing.
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.