Adverse Childhood Experiences-Part 1
Kevin is 11 years old and has grown up in an abusive home. He has scars from being beaten and punched by his alcoholic father. Kevin is being raised in a family that lives below the poverty line and has to struggle even for regular meals. Kevin has painful experiences of seeing his mother being violently treated. He also has bad memories of his father being imprisoned in the past. Kevin is often humiliated, belittled, and yelled at. When Kevin started having frequent nightmares and his teacher suspected ADHD, the pediatrician screened him for Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, wherein Kevin got a high ACE score of 6.
According to studies, what this would reveal is that compared with people who have zero ACEs, people with an ACEs score of 4 or more, later in their adult life have a 240 percent greater risk of hepatitis, were 390 percent more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis), and a 240 percent higher risk of a sexually-transmitted disease. They are twice as likely to be smokers, twelve times more likely to have attempted suicide, seven times more likely to be alcoholic, and ten times more likely to have injected street drugs. People with an ACEs score of 6 also have a shorter lifespan – by 20 years.
Yes, these were the shocking results of one of the largest and most important public health studies of its kind - The ACEs STUDY, a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente, which evaluated over 17,000 middle-class adult Americans to better understand the relationship between child abuse and neglect and other forms of adverse childhood experiences and leading causes of adult morbidity and mortality. The ACEs Study used a simple scoring method to determine the extent of each study participant's exposure to childhood trauma. So the rougher your childhood, the higher your score and the higher your risk for various health problems later. One in six people had an ACEs score of 4 or more, and one in nine had an ACEs score of 5 or more.
The acronym ACEs stands for 'Adverse Childhood Experiences'. These are highly stressful, traumatic experiences that can have a lifetime impact on not only the emotional and social well being but also increases a child's risk to maladaptive behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death. Toxic stress is caused by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Some amount of stress can be considered necessary for development, but when a child is exposed to strong, frequent and prolonged traumatic experiences, the biological responses to such toxic stress can be incredibly destructive and last a lifetime. Such a sustained level of stress in childhood has lifelong impacts on both the body as well as the brain. Research confirms that fear-based childhoods disrupts neurodevelopment, and can actually alter normal brain structure and function.
With 20 percent (63 million) of the U.S. population having adverse childhood experiences, we cannot as a society afford to ignore these issues any longer. Having a complete understanding of the disastrous impact of ACEs and the consequences of toxic stress is not only crucial, but critically important for the health and social well being of our nation. A step towards increasing awareness and understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences, is a step forward to a healthy nation.
Adverse childhood experiences which occur prior to the 18th birthday include :
• Emotional abuse • Physical abuse • Sexual abuse • Emotional neglect • Physical neglect
• Mother treated violently • Household substance abuse • Household mental illness • Parental separation or divorce • Incarcerated household member
There are many children like Kevin who are victims of maltreatment and carry deep scars, which are largely unrecognized throughout their lives. The key concept underlying the ACE Study is that stressful and traumatic childhood experiences can negatively impact almost every aspect of human life.
In our next blog we will talk about the long term effects of ACEs and if there is no hope for those with a high ACEs score.