ACEs and Toxic Stress
Our current national debate about Immigrant children’s health and separation from their parents brings to the forefront much research which has been done on the effects which toxic stress can have on the lifelong health status of an individual. Significant amounts of stress in the lives of young children is a risk factor for development of health-threatening behaviors and physical responses that can lay the groundwork for pervasive, chronic, stress-related diseases later in life such as diabetes, obesity, kidney and lung disease, etc. Racial and ethnic disparities in children’s health in the U.S. are extensive, persistent, and worsening. A growing body of science confirming events known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES) asserts that ACE’s can disrupt normal brain development and if traumatic stress is repeated in children, the brain becomes “wired for survival” and changed forever. This leaves the affected person in a heightened state of fight, flight or freeze and sets them up to experience a myriad of often deadly health conditions and issues.
An ACES study which began over 20 years ago through Kaiser Health Systems, identifies over ten specific Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It revealed that 2 out of 3 people has experienced at least one or more ACE in their lives. The more ACEs a person experiences, the stronger the probability that the person will suffer from problems with learning, social behaviors and situations, general health and poor over all well-being. The Centers for Disease Control has identified ACES’s as the most prevalent and least identified Public Health issue of our time.
A copy of the ACE’s questionnaire is below:
Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire
While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:
1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
4. Did you often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
5. Did you often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _______ This is your ACE Score
As your ACE score increases, so does your risk of disease, social and emotional problems. With an ACE score of 4 or more, health concerns can be traumatic . The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.
Promoting and protecting children’s health and well being is a critically important issue and the foundation for ensuring productive citizenship and good health for families in our society. It is essential that addressing ways to reduce exposure to ACEs become more of a focus for us all!