Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are an increasing global concern. There is a growing body of evidence that shows how traumatic experiences can have a profound effect on a child or young person’s developing brain and body with lasting impacts on their health throughout their lifespan.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) was first published in 1998. It was a study that has revolutionised how we understand the relationship between childhood and long-term health as adults. Led by researchers Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, the ACE Study surveyed more than 17,000 adults, between 1995 and 1997, who were patients of Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire reporting traumatic experiences during childhood.
The study has isolated several events that can seriously impact a child’s neurological development. This list of ten experiences include witnessing violence, experiencing abuse, parental drug/alcohol misuse and loss of a parent. Whilst 2/3rds of the general population is likely to have experienced at least one ACE, experiencing multiple ACEs before the age of 18 contributes significantly to the long-term physical and mental health of a person. Having a high ACE score correlates with increased risk of cardiovascular disorders, mental health issues, low productivity, and a shortened life expectancy. People with 6 or more ACE scores have a life expectancy that is 20 years less than the average population.
Whilst the impact of adverse childhood experiences is undeniable, it does not have to be. Neurodevelopmental experts have established (with the help of PET scans and other technology) a greater understanding of neuro plasticity, and evidence now shows that the brain is more plastic, or more capable of developing appropriate pathways, longer than previously expected; pathways can even be re-established in older patients after stroke or traumatic brain injury. Additionally, experts in resilience have shown that resiliency can be built at any age, if a person receives the appropriate interventions. When a person with high ACE scores are in supportive, stable community groups, it can reduce the impact of high ACEs.