1. Experiencing childhood adversity is common.
A study done in the late 90s (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) with 17,000 participants revealed two-thirds of participants experienced at least one of the 10 adverse events in childhood listed on the study questionnaire. In addition, almost 90% of those who reported experiencing one type of adversity as a child, also reported experiencing at least one other.
This study has been replicated by 35 different states and multiple organizations, and all have produced similar outcomes.
2. As your ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score increases so does your risk of negative health outcomes.
The original questionnaire has 10 items that can be responded to with a YES or a NO. Each YES response earns you 1 point. This is not a questionnaire you want to ace, which means the lower your score the better for you. Kind of like golf.
How bad could a high ACE score be? Well, researchers have discovered that once you get to an ACE score of 4 you’re:
And once you get to an ACE score of 6, you’re at risk of a shortened lifespan by 20 years.
3. Many major health, mental health, economic, and social issues are caused or exacerbated by childhood adversity.
Stress chemicals are neurotoxic in high doses, which means they can damage or kill cells. Chronic stress, which leads to repeated release of stress chemicals, can do major damage to brains and bodies. Researchers have found that chronic stress in childhood can do so much damage as to set the stage for developing ischemic heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and cancer in adulthood, even in the absence of any other causal relationships to these diseases.
When one is not well physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, or socially there oftentimes is a ripple effect across all these domains.
4. ACEs cost the United States approximately $150 billion every year.
Costs in healthcare, mental health services, emergency response, lost productivity – these all add up. Employers sustain an estimated 200 million lost work days each year, which equates to about $40 million.
If any of the above information is alarming to you, well, it should be. Experiencing adversity in childhood can cause many problems across many life domains for a lifetime. Having a high ACE score increases risk for experiencing health problems, mental health problems, violence, being violent, financial difficulties, and more, and the risk isn’t just a smidgen, it’s a lot.
But there’s a 5th thing you need to know about childhood adversity…
5. Protective factors can offset the harm of ACEs.
What are protective factors?
Basically, having strong, healthy relationships that make children feel cared about and loved can decrease the negative effects of adverse childhood experiences. Social connection is one of the most important factors in human development. It ranks right up there with needing water and food to survive and thrive. There is such a thing as “failure to thrive” that is diagnosed in infants when they stop developing solely based on lack of emotional-social connection.
The more protective factors a child has, the better their long-term health outcomes. This means that, even in the presence of adversity, children who have protective factors can be healthy, successful adults.
The ACE study completely revamped how we look at human development and the brain. Not only has it given us information about the negative effects of negative experiences it also has sparked studies about the positive effects of positive experiences.
Now that you know this information, you can begin applying it to your life. If you’re a parent, you can build resilience in your kids by increasing protective factors. If you’re an employer, you can look at how your company could increase protective factors among staff. If you are a leader in your community, you could start programming that builds protective factors in your community. If we know better, we do better, so continue to educate yourself about childhood adversity.
What’s one of the best things you can do as a parent to protect against childhood adversity? Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will address this topic and tell you what I tell parents over and over again.
- Erica L. Daniels, LPCC-S
Pediatric Mental Health Counselor
Child Counseling Place