Adverse Childhood Experiences
What are ACEs?
Every child deserves a happy and healthy childhood, but unfortunately, some children have experiences that stop them from having this. These experiences are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). You are probably wondering what ACEs are. ACEs are traumatic events that take place from the ages of 0 to 18. There are 3 categories of ACEs: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Within each category are subcategories, which are pictured below:
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
So, how are ACEs measured? ACEs are measured using the ACE quiz, which is based on a scale of one to ten. For every ACE you have experienced you earn one point, so the higher your score the more ACEs you have experienced, and the lower your score the fewer ACEs you have experienced. For example, if you score a nine out of ten, you have experienced almost every type of ACE. Are you curious about what your ACE score is? Take the test here: ACE Test
Knowing all this, you may also be wondering “How are ACEs relevant to me?” ACEs are relevant to adults for two main reasons. First, ACEs may be affecting a child you know. Second, ACEs may have affected you as a child, which in turn affect you as an adult.
Now that we have discussed what ACEs are, how they are measured, and why they are relevant to you as a reader, we can discuss the effects of ACEs. ACEs can result in either short-term or long-term effects, depending on the type of stress a child experiences during ACEs. The short-term effects of ACEs are tolerable stress, while the long-term effects of ACEs are toxic stress.
Tolerable stress occurs when there is a short period of time when a child’s stress response is turned on but that response is lessened by an adult who can help that child cope. For example, if a child was being bullied by another child, but a parent or teacher intervened that child would have experienced tolerable stress because the child’s body can turn off the stress hormone response.
Toxic stress occurs when there is a long period of time when a child’s stress response is turned on due to repeated exposure to ACEs that are not lessened by an adult who can help that child cope. Without an adult to help the child cope, the child’s body cannot turn off the stress hormone response leading to toxic stress.
Toxic stress can cause permanent damage to the body and brain of the child. Toxic stress can cause behavioral, mental, and physical issues. In babies, it can cause developmental delays, growth delays, and sleep disruption. In children, it can also cause developmental delays and growth delays, and it can also cause behavioral issues, emotional issues, difficulty creating and maintaining relationships, and health issues. In teens and adults, it can cause mental health issues, drug, and alcohol abuse, STI’s, teen pregnancy, and chronic diseases. In fact, a study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience found that individuals with an ACEs score of four or more are:
- 1.9 times as likely to become obese
- 2.4 times as likely to experience ongoing anxiety
- 3.6 times as likely to be depressed
- 3.6 times as likely to qualify as promiscuous
- 6.6 times as likely to engage in early-life sexual intercourse
- 7.2 times as likely to become alcoholic
- 11.1 times as likely to become intravenous drug users
There you have it – now you know what ACEs are, how they are measured, why they are relevant to both children and adults, and what the effects of ACEs are. As someone who scored a ten out of ten on the ACE quiz, I understand that it can be overwhelming to think that your past childhood trauma can affect your present-day behavioral, mental and physical health, but this information is meant to be empowering, not discouraging. Understanding your own ACEs can help you with understanding yourself better and can be used as a starting point in talking about your past childhood trauma with a trusted friend, relative, or professional. Personally, I was able to talk to a professional about my own ACEs and was finally able to get a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and start medication. All of which has helped me feel and be my best. Our past ACEs do not define us, but they do have a role in our behavioral, mental and physical health. I hope readers can take the time to understand the role their ACEs have in their health and take the steps to use that information to feel and be their best too. If you want to talk about your ACEs but do not have a trusted friend, relative, or professional to talk to I have included some free and low-cost mental health resources below:
- H.O.P.E. Counseling Services 601 S Rancho Dr. Suite A10, Las Vegas, NV 89106 (702) 437-4673
- Low-Cost (ask for an intern counselor)
- UNLV Student Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) 900 E Harmon Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89119 (702) 895-3106
- Low-Cost (for UNLV students)
- UNR Student Counseling and Psychological Services William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center Suite 420 (775) 784-4648
- Low-Cost (for UNR students)
- Community Counseling Center 714 E Sahara Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89104 (702) 369-8700
- Low-Cost or Free (based on income)
This blog was written by Nikole, an intern at Immunize Nevada.