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What are the 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences?

An Introduction to ACEs

Childhood experiences, positive and negative, can affect a person into adulthood. Experiencing trauma at a young age leaves the brain vulnerable. What are the 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences? The 10 ACEs are a list of traumatic childhood experiences. The more of them you experience, the more likely you are to have adverse consequences, even into adulthood.

An Introduction to ACEs 

ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur before the age of 18. They can stem from various happenings like physical abuse or household dysfunction. ACEs can undermine a person’s sense of safety, stability, and capacity to form or maintain relationships.

In the Centers for Disease Control-Kaiser Permanente ACE study conducted from 1995-97, more than 17,000 members of the Health Maintenance Organization completed surveys related to their childhood experiences and current health. Researchers then compared the survey’s results to measures of adult risk behavior, health status, and disease.

The study is one of the largest investigations of childhood trauma and how it affects a person’s adult life. The results help experts understand the long-term complications affecting ACEs survivors. 

ACEs-based screenings give patients a score based on how many ACEs they have experienced. The higher your score, the higher chance you are at risk of experiencing the negative effects, even into adulthood.

What are the 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences?

So what are these childhood experiences with the potential to change the course of your life and impact you far into adulthood? Here they are.

1. Physical Abuse

Causing physical harm to a child by hitting, kicking, punching, scratching, beating, burning, throwing, or stabbing. It can result in injuries like bruises, cuts, and fractured or broken bones.

2. Sexual Abuse

Engaging in sexual behavior with a child, sexual exploitation of a child, or exposing oneself indecently to a child. This includes using a child in prostitution or pornography.

3. Verbal Abuse

Using the voice and words to scream, yell, curse at, assault, or manipulate a child.

4. Physical Neglect

Failing to provide a child’s basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter. This also includes failing to give a child proper medical care, providing clean clothes, or giving proper supervision.

5. Emotional Neglect

Behaving in a way that causes a child emotional harm and interferes with their mental health. This neglect can include ridiculing, blaming, threatening, isolating, or rejecting the child. 

6. Mental illness

A household member with a mental illness that impacts their ability to provide proper care for the child or has a profound impact on the child. This experience could be depression, a household member attempting suicide, or other mental illnesses.

7. Substance Addiction

A household member who is addicted to alcohol or another substance. The addiction can cause a caregiver to prioritize substance use over caring for the child.

8. Imprisonment

A household member who is incarcerated. It can cause a child to feel abandoned when the person leaves them. The person may also have modeled inappropriate behaviors before being imprisoned. 

9. Witnessing Abuse

Seeing violence, specifically against a mother, is particularly traumatizing because children tend to form a stronger attachment to a mother figure. It is difficult to watch a loved one’s abuse, and they may feel helpless because they cannot intervene.

10. Losing a Parent to Separation, Divorce, or Death 

When an important figure is removed from a child’s life, it can cause significant distress and feelings of abandonment.

Trauma also can occur outside of these categories and impact a child’s development and adult life. Researchers have begun including other types of experiences as they create the same biologic changes as the original ACEs.

Other types of adverse experiences that happen to young people include:

  • Bullying
  • Racism
  • Community violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Refugee/wartime experiences
  • Witnessing/experiencing acts of terrorism 
  • Homelessness
  • Food insecurity

Understanding the Effect of ACEs on Adults

ACEs aren’t a rare occurrence. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one ACE, and nearly 1-in-6 had experienced four or more. 

It’s important to note that some children are at greater risk of ACEs. Women and racial/ethnic marginalized groups are more likely to experience them.

Prolonged exposure to trauma can cause the body to experience toxic stress. Staying in this fight-or-flight mode for prolonged periods can lead to long-term physical and mental health issues.

Effects of ongoing trauma include:

  • Impaired learning and memory
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Reduced attention control
  • Hyperawareness of one’s surroundings
  • Difficulty experiencing joy
  • Difficulty understanding how to respond to situations
  • Increased likelihood of substance use

ACEs are the root cause of many mental illnesses and chronic disorders, resulting in trauma symptoms well into adulthood. The CDC-Kaiser ACE study found that adults with an ACE score of four or more were at significantly greater risk for many behavioral, physical, and mental health issues later in life. These issues include alcoholism, drug use, smoking, depression, and suicide attempts. A higher number of ACEs also correlates with heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, liver disease, and many chronic health conditions.

“Experiencing trauma changes a person and how they experience the world around them if they can’t process it,” said Carmen Dominguez, Executive Clinical Director at Integrative Life Center.

“It can distort the person’s perceptions of their current situation. This leaves the person in a vulnerable position in that they can’t fully be present in the here and now,” she said. 

When ACEs impact children, they often carry those mental health concerns into adulthood.

“They feel disconnected to their intrinsic wisdom and to a greater truth of who they are,” Carmen said. “Individuals who have suffered trauma have a distorted sense of the world and themselves.”

Researchers have found connections between ACEs and a greater likelihood of becoming a victim or perpetrator of violent crime.  Additionally, ACEs can follow an intergenerational pattern, meaning a survivor of a violent assault in childhood is more likely to commit a violent assault in their adult life. Survivors are known to experience lower educational achievements and higher unemployment. They are less likely to have the same life opportunities as others and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences

A child’s developing brain is vulnerable and malleable, which is why ACEs significantly impact adulthood. Even though trauma experiences can negatively affect the brain, protective experiences that encourage resilience can have a positive effect. 

To counterbalance adversity, you must institute healthy coping mechanisms and protective experiences. By fostering resilience in children facing ACEs, they have a great chance of overcoming their childhood trauma and finding healing. 

“The first step in healing trauma is reclaiming and restoring one’s sense of safety, dignity, and connection,” Carmen said. “In seeking safety, trauma survivors disconnect from their inherent worth. Self-esteem is key to our sense of well-being. The process of reclaiming self is critical to healing.”

Building a Safe Environment for Children

Facilitating a nurturing and stable environment for children is crucial to ensuring their success in adulthood. Methods include:

  • Providing a nurturing environment
  • Fostering resiliency 
  • Cultivating meaningful relationships
  • Investing in character development
  • Teaching coping skills
  • Intervening immediately in dangerous situations
  • Raising awareness 

Preventing ACEs could reduce the number of adults with depression by as much as 44%, decrease the chance of developing asthma by 24%, and reduce kidney disease by 16%. Understanding how greatly ACEs impact children in their adult lives is crucial for healing. Opportunities for healing are available through treatment

Finding Peace 

Experiencing trauma doesn’t cause you to be irreparably damaged. You can heal from ACEs and find happiness. At ILC, we employ trauma-informed care centered on understanding trauma’s emotional, neurological, psychological, social, and biological effects. Our counselors cultivate a safe, trusting environment and keep the client’s mental well-being at the forefront. Contact us today to take back your life and find true healing.

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