This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
As a college student majoring in psychology, I spent a summer interning at a residential treatment facility for children who were physically and sexually abused. The center housed kids who were subjected to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are more common than you’d think.
ACEs are so common that 61% of adults have experienced at least 1 ACE. Chances are if you’ve experienced one, you’ve experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences. 16% of adults have had 4 or more types of ACEs.
But what are they and why do they matter? Keep reading for more information about what they are, why they’re important, and how to prevent them.
About Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Never heard of ACEs? They include emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse and child neglect (emotional and physical), parent or household mental illness, and parent or household substance abuse/alcoholism. They can also result from witnessing domestic violence, having a parent or family member in jail, or parent separation or divorce.
As parents, we may see the effects of ACEs as a child throwing a tantrum in public due to an inability to express themselves, not understanding what is happening around them, or having strong internal feelings that are too hard to control.
Teachers see ACEs affecting classroom behavior, too. In my classroom, ACEs might appear as exhaustion, the inability to focus in class, and fear. These three things might indicate a student has suffered from early trauma and needs support.
Why Are ACEs Important
ACEs cause toxic stress that can alter brain development and affect how the body responds to normal stress. Since adverse childhood experiences are so common, their effects can add up over time.
ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood.
Research also demonstrates that there’s a link between ACEs and adult depression. It is thought that early recognition of adverse childhood experiences could reduce the number of adults with depression by as much as 44%.
How to Prevent the Effects of ACEs
Recognizing and preventing ACEs could potentially reduce chronic diseases, risky health behaviors, and socioeconomic challenges later in life.
In addition to being knowledgeable about ACEs, you can do the following to support those who might have had an adverse childhood experience in their past:
- Recognize challenges that families face and offer support and encouragement to reduce stress
- Create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments in childhood where children live, learn, and play
- Anticipate and recognize current risk for ACEs in children and history of ACEs in adults
- Reduce stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or for substance misuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
- Change how people think about the causes of ACEs and who could help prevent them
- Shift the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions.
- Support community programs and policies that provide safe and healthy conditions for all children and families.
It’s also critical for all adults to create a support system. Forming connections and relationships is essential, so make sure you have three people or resources you can rely on. Family, friends, and neighbors, can serve as important in-person supports.
Even those who live far away can be important sources of support since social media, DMs, and texts allow us to stay connected 24/7. Also seek out local resources such as parenting groups, members of school staff such as teachers, counselors, and administrators, and community organizations whose members have the same interests as you.
This idea of #findyour3 helps prevent the impact of ACEs. Identify what people, policies, and organizations are part of your support system and learn more about ACEs here.