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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Impact on Children


Do you ever think back on things that happened to you as a child and recognize what kind of an impact it had on your life?  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future health outcomes, violence, victimization, and lifelong opportunities.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are defined as potentially traumatic events that can have negative, long lasting effects on health and well-being.  Children and families representing all types of demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds will experience stress.  There are different types of stress:  positive, tolerable, and toxic.

Toxic stress (extreme, repetitive stress) is proven to have the most negative effect on people.  Adverse childhood experiences are surprisingly common, although typically concealed and unrecognized.  These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian.

Potentially traumatic experiences are common among U.S. children, with more than one in four having been exposed to economic hardship and poverty within the first five years of life.  One in five has experienced parental divorce or separation, and one in ten has lived in a household where an adult has an alcohol or drug problem. More troubling still, more than one in ten children nationally—about one in six—has experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences.  These findings have important implications for children’s health and well-being, including the need for increased attention to the early detection including social, emotional, and depression screenings as well as trauma informed treatment of children affected by these experiences.

In this series of articles, we will examine Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Trauma Informed Care, and Resiliency.  We will discover how to become “TRAUMA INFORMED” which will revolutionize how we perceive substance abuse, violence, depression, and chronic illness.  It will help us change the question, change the shame and blame. We will become more compassionate and instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?”, we will ask a new question , “what happened to you?”

Let’s look at a “real to life” scenario of a little boy experiencing toxic stress and the effects on his life.   We will refer to him as “Little Johnny”.  He was living at home with his mom who has a history of substance abuse, which in turn led to neglect and physical abuse.

Little Johnny’s mom was recently incarcerated for illicit drug use.  Little Johnny was uprooted from his home and placed in foster care in another county.  With this turn of events, he is now in a strange place with strange people and feels alone and depressed.  He is enrolled in a new school.  Little Johnny begins misbehaving and getting into trouble at school.  The foster mom tells the teacher she doesn’t know what’s wrong with this child or why he is acting this way.  She shared with the teacher that at home, Little Johnny is not sleeping, complains of constipation and stomachache.

The foster mom decides to take him to the doctor.  She takes Little Johnny to the local clinic which is not where he is usually seen.  He meets a new doctor that is unaware of his home life or medical history.  The foster mom reports all of his symptoms to the doctor.  Little Johnny is given a medication for constipation, a medication for ADHD (Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), and a pill to help him sleep at night.  Now, after all of these interventions, Little Johnny is alone, depressed, on 3 new medications, and labeled at school as a trouble maker.   It is like a snowball effect, things are bad and then they get worse…  What if we could change Little Johnny’s course of treatment and make his life better?

The series will be continued next week.

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