What Are ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ (ACEs)?

 

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been split into three categories :

  • ABUSE
  • NEGLECT
  • FAMILY DYSFUNCTION

In the original ACE study (conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1995 and 1997), these three categories were further broken down into :

ABUSE: Emotional; physical and sexual

NEGLECT: Physical; emotional

FAMILY DYSFUNCTION: Witnessing domestic violence; person/s with depression/mental illness in the home; substance abuse in the home; loss of a parent (divorce/separation/death).

NB: Of course, the child may suffer trauma in many other ways, but the above categories were focused upon in the original ACE study.

THE EFFECTS OF ACEs ON THE BRAIN:

 

ACEs that take place during the critical and sensitive developmental period of the person’s childhood (especially during the first three years of life and during puberty and early adolescence), coupled with their effects on the person’s genetic expression (how our genes express themselves depends upon how they interact with our experiences/environment – this is known as epigenetics) can adversely affect brain development on a number of levels (see below):

ACEs Can Adversely Affect Brain Development On A Number Of Levels :

  • ELECTRICAL
  • CHEMICAL
  • CELLULAR MASS

In turn, these adverse effects, taken together, can damage the brain on both a STRUCTURAL and FUNCTIONAL level.

BRAIN CHANGES BECOME ‘HARDWIRED’ FOR SURVIVAL:

 

These brain changes then become hardwired in the brain’s biology as the behaviors that these brain changes are associated with are, on a fundamental level, ADAPTIVE AND ‘INTENDED’ TO HELP THE CHILD SURVIVE HIS/HER TRAUMATIC ENVIRONMENT. 

 

For example, certain brain changes caused by the child’s traumatic experiences may predispose the child to hypervigilance and explosive outbursts of rage and anger, both of which are adaptations that enhance survival chances in a dangerous, threatening, and hostile environment. 

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHIATRIC, PHYSICAL, AND ‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS:

 

The original ACE study found that, on average, the greater the number of ACEs an individual had experienced during childhood, the more likely s/he was to suffer from the following problems later in life :

PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS :

  • alcoholism
  • depression
  • abuse of illegal drugs
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • suicidal ideation

PHYSICAL PROBLEMS :

  • ischemic heart disease
  • liver disease
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :

  • health-related quality of life
  • poor work performance
  • financial stress
  • risk for intimate partner violence
  • promiscuity
  • smoking/starting to smoke especially early in life
  • unintended pregnancies
  • poor academic performance

NB: The above list is NOT exhaustive.

 

USEFUL EXTERNAL LINK:

Undoing The Harm Of  Childhood Trauma And Adversity (University of California, San Francisco).

 

eBook :

 

My eBooks are now available for instant download from Amazon. Click HERE for further information.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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