The science of ACEs is introducing our communities, our doctors, our judicial system, our teachers and others in every profession to the influence of life events on forming long-term physical and emotional health. The research is guiding us and giving us the tools to become a more trauma-informed society.
Hundreds of studies have reproduced results from the original 1998 ACEs study by internist Dr. Vincent J. Felitti at Kaiser Permanente, epidemiologist Dr. Robert Anda and colleagues who looked at 10 distinct types of trauma and how they affect our lives, our relationships, our ability to be in the world, and our long-term health (Hughes, 2017).
The 10 types of ACEs occurring from 0 to 18 years of age include:
- losing a parent
- physical abuse
- emotional abuse
- sexual abuse abuse
- physical neglect
- emotional neglect
- having a parent in jail
- who abuses alcohol or other substances
- who has a mental illness
- who is violent towards the mother of the child
All of these ACEs are risk factors for chronic health conditions and other problems later in life. Even if they only happened a couple times. And even more so if they happened repeatedly over years.
ACEs increase the risk of
- heart disease
- type 1 diabetes
- type 2 diabetes
- and much more.
Although the ACEs focus on just 10 types of trauma, other kinds of trauma in childhood also increase the risk for similar kinds of health problems and other effects.
- being bullied
- medical procedures and hospitalizations
- having a parent or other family member who had a life-threatening illness
- losing a parent for any reason (not only from separation or divorce as on the ACEs survey), among several others.
The good news is that having an ACE score is not a sure fire sign that we’ll have problems. This is primarily true if you had someone you can go to for support, who saw you, or who let you know that you mattered when you were a child. This is why I always say getting your child into play therapy at a young age is imperative when they have a Cluster B disordered parent whom they are forced to spend unsupervised time with. Having support like this in your adult life especially when in the middle of a contested custody battle with a CB is extremely helpful as well.
More good news is that knowing about ACEs shows us and our (or our child’s) healthcare providers where to look to heal the effects – there are many approaches to healing. The ACEs research highlights everything professionals have known for decades before this regarding the effects of adversity in childhood.
ACEs serve as a spotlight with solid science about the effects of early trauma. The studies act like a laser to focus the attention on a topic that is practically invisible until one knows what to look for. Knowing about ACEs shows practitioners where to go. It gives insights and clues almost like a map. It helps them navigate the way.
The ACE studies are finally becoming well known in mental health settings, in schools, and in other environments but most doctors and other providers of health care are not yet being taught about ACEs in their training. Doctors and other healthcare providers who screening for ACEs in family medicine and in pediatric clinics feel they have something powerful to offer their patients. And research backs this up.
Dr. Felitti states that if we educate patients about ACEs and change their expectations for medical care, it will create a market force that will get medical practitioners, health insurance organizations and others to change how they do business.
And it’s happening.
These experiences all support the need to keep learning. To keep educating. And to keep making it easier to inform doctors and patients and colleagues alike.
When our health care professionals know about ACEs, it enables them to provide an entirely different level of connection, compassion, and treatment. Being seen, told it’s not psychological or in our heads, and given new avenues for healing changes our lives. As patients. And also as doctors and (teachers and psychotherapists and beyond). The information and acknowledgment themselves are healing, and are an intervention and form of treatment all on their own.
This is what hospitals, their CEOs, insurers, doctors and others focusing on time or money as the bottom line, are missing. Skipping over our histories and shoving past emotions that are too big to cope with does not serve us, or our health.
We must keep sharing the information about ACEs with one another.
When we come into the present moment, we can acknowledge how our past might affect our present. For many, it means being true to ourselves. If we have symptoms in the present, chances are we’ve had some commotion in the past.
As physicians, Jack Shonkoff and Andrew Garner write for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the AAP’s latest policies that include ACEs awareness,
“the process of [child and brain] development is now understood as a function of ‘nature dancing with nurture over time,’ in contrast to the longstanding but now outdated debate about the influence of ‘nature versus nurture’ ” p. e234.
Even if the process of healing the effects of trauma often takes time, can be lifelong and is therefore not a quick fix, that’s okay with most of us who are dealing with unrelenting, debilitating or otherwise limiting and painful symptoms. Many of our symptoms and illnesses have no known cure, to begin with. It’s much easier to face the challenges, the fears, the doubts and the journey when we understand what’s happening and have a sense of why.
ACE fact sheets can support the light to keep shining bright. They summarize the ACE studies, cite and list over 20 references, and can be printed on a single two-sided page to give to your doctor and other healthcare professionals. If you are a healthcare provider, you can give them to patients and clients. They can also be given to your children’s teachers, your students, lawyers, social workers and others.
Here’s one easy thing to do. Research shows that simply taking the ACE Survey, finding your own ACE Score, understanding the relationship between your past childhood adversity, and the role it may play in your present adult health struggles, can change people. How?
Research done by Dr. Vincent Felitti, who is the original co-author of the ACE Study, has shown that simply taking the ACE Survey can help set a healing response in motion.
In Felitti’s study of 125,000 patients, those individuals who were given the ACE Survey by medical practitioner and whose medical practitioner listened to them as they shared the emotional pain they’ve lived with all their lives and acknowledged that patient’s emotional and physical pain, and validated the link between their past trauma and their current chronic conditions, showed a 35% reduction in doctor’s visits, and fewer hospital stays.
Dr. Feletti also suggests the following for those who have a high ACE score:
- EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)
- Ericksonian Hypnotherapy
- Websites: (Founder/Editor, Jane Ellen Stevens) www.acestoohigh.com & www.acesconnections
- “The Body Keeps Score, Brain, Mind & Body in the Healing of Trauma”, Bessel van der Kolk , MD.
- Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease, Robin Karr-Morse
Both fact sheets attached to this post include the ACEs survey questionnaire (you can find a resilience survey here: “Got Your ACE Score“.
FREE ACE Handouts for Health Practitioners, Therapists, Attorneys and More
To download ACE Scores and the Research Behind Them compiled by LLG Tactical Coaching CLICK HERE: Ace Scores and the Research Behind Them
The attached ACE Fact Sheets are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. They can be freely shared and used with a citation or link to this article or www.chronicillnesstraumastudies.com as the original source.