Childhood is made up of experiences- good and bad- that shape who you will become as an adult. From the time we are born, we are being shaped as a person. The love and connection we feel with our families help us to become healthy, well-adjusted adults. When we are connected to our caregivers, we have a bond and a strong sense of self.
If we do not have that connection, or experience adverse childhood experiences (ACES), we may experience challenges that impact us throughout our life. Like the good childhood experiences, the negative ones can impact us for the rest of our life.
What are ACES?
ACEs or adverse childhood experiences are potentially traumatic things that occur in a child’s life. These experiences occur before a child is eighteen, but they remember them throughout their life. ACEs refer to specific types of trauma children may experience. They include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect, losing a parent such as through divorce, being exposed to domestic violence, having a parent with a mental illness, having a member of the household who abuses drugs or alcohol, and having a parent who has been in jail. Children living through these experiences may suffer from adverse effects for the rest of their lives.
How do ACES impact a child?
Children who experience these traumatic events or environments can experience challenges in their lives. Without a healthy adult to support them, they may experience toxic stress. They may encounter chronic health conditions like depression, asthma, or diabetes.
If a child experiences toxic stress long-term, they may adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. When a child experiences chronic stress, it can lead them to have a lower tolerance for stressful situations in adulthood. Children can also experience PTSD and other mental health issues.
High ACE scores can also be linked to an early death. Studies have found that the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, lung disease, and cancer, was greater only for people with these high ACE scores.
If you have experienced childhood trauma and would like to take the ACES assessment, you can take it here. It’s important to remember that your ACE score is a guideline. There may be other types of toxic stress that occur in one’s life. This can also hurt a person’s health.
When you answer questions in the quiz, you get one point for each question that you respond to with a “yes.” Each of these questions addresses ten different types of trauma. When your ACE score increases, so does the risk of the health conditions we discussed earlier in this article.
However, it’s important to remember that our brains are very plastic. We can always improve our physical and mental health. If you find that you have a high ACEs score, you may consider consulting a therapist or making lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing.