Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a term most commonly associated with the ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES STUDY.
These adverse childhood experiences have been split into three categories :
- FAMILY DYSFUNCTION
In the original ACE study, these three categories were further broken down into :
ABUSE : Emotional; physical and sexual
NEGLECT : Physical; emotional
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 upon 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 :
- CELLULAR MASS
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 which enhance survival chances in a dangerous, threatening and hostile environment. Indeed, children who grow up in traumatically threatening environments are at significantly increased risk of developing OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANCE DISORDER (ODD).
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs) AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PSYCHIATRIC, PHYSICAL AND ‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :
The original ACE study found that, overall and 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 :
PHYSICAL PROBLEMS :
- ischemic heart disease
- liver disease
- sexually transmitted diseases
- chronic obstructive pulmonory disease
‘LIFE’ PROBLEMS :
- health-related quality of life
- poor work performance
- financial stress
- risk for intimate partner violence
- smoking / starting to smoke especially early in life
- unintended pregnancies
- poor academic performance
NB : The above list is NOT exhaustive.
To read more about the original ACE study, you may wish to visit this site
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).