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.
Let's be cognizant of the effects of toxic stress from ACEs -
Long-term effects on the body
Studies have found a strong relationship between the exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults. Childhood trauma has been directly linked to chronic lung disease, cancer, ischemic heart disease, skeletal fractures, liver disease, challenges with physical inactivity, and severe obesity.
Effects on child's developing brain
Prolonged exposure to chronic stress and trauma can disrupt healthy brain development and induce changes in the architecture of different regions of the developing brain (e.g., amygdala, hippocampus). This has lifelong implications and can impact a range of important functions, such as regulating the stress response, attention, memory, planning, and learning new skills. Children with seven or more adverse childhood experiences are nearly guaranteed to have a developmental delay.
Mental health and behavioral problems
Approximately one-third of all mental disorders worldwide are attributable to exposure to adverse childhood experiences. Children exposed to adversity will commonly have anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior, post-traumatic stress and sleep disorders. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more depression, and more work absences.
Risk of substance use disorders
Persons who have experienced four or more categories of childhood adversity, have 4- to 12-fold increased health risks for alcoholism and drug abuse. There is increased likelihood of lifetime illicit drug use, drug dependency, self-reported addiction and increased drug prescriptions.
Adults who have experienced the harsh realities of ACEs early in life also have a negative impact on their parenting capacity. The physiological changes on the adult's stress response system will perpetuate a continuing exposure to ACEs across generations by transmission of epigenetic changes to the genome. Notably children growing in an adverse environment have lower level of education, adult employment and income. Cumulatively this increases the likelihood of poverty which in turn puts even their children at a greater risk of remaining in poverty with limited opportunities in growing up to their full potential. The impact of this inferior quality of life are passed from generation to generation..
Ray of hope - Building resiliency
The good news is that a high ACE score does not always have to predict a poor adult life. Research suggests that having a single safe, supportive and trusting relationship as early in life can remarkably counteract the traumatic experiences and help boost the child's resilience. Giving children the gift of an enriched and nurturing family environment can assure healthy development and also dramatically improve mental health. Trauma-informed practices can also help buffer the risk of chronic illness in adulthood. When taking a compassionate and sensitive approach to those afflicted, development can indeed be strong in face of adversity.
As we conclude, it will be worthwhile to acknowledge the concerns behind this grievous social problem. No more can we remain silent spectators. Overcoming and facing the challenges of preventing child abuse is not going to be easy. But each one of us can surely make a difference. With our enlightened perspective, we can all support one another by collectively strengthening our efforts to not only prevent child abuse but also be the healing support to those abused.