Mrs. Reavis was more than just my 5th-grade teacher. She was a lifeline. I always knew her persevering belief in me made a difference in my life, but I never understood the science behind her impact until recently.
Growing up, my life was filled with trauma. Abuse was, unfortunately, not a rare experience in my household. From an early age, I was subjected to things no child—or person for that matter—should ever encounter. Research shows this kind of trauma, also known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have a lifelong impact. However, we now know positive childhood experiences (PCEs) can lower the impact of those negative effects by building resilience.
Long-term effects of trauma in childhood
Over the past two decades, numerous research studies have shown a direct link between ACEs and negative health outcomes as an adult. ACEs happen in the years before a child turns 18. These experiences are broken down into 10 categories: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, parental mental illness, incarcerated relative, a parent treated violently, household substance abuse, and not being raised by both biological parents. ACEs are common. About 61 percent of people surveyed reported at least one ACE, while 1 in 6 reported 4 or more ACEs.
The higher the ACE score, the more likely that child will face lifelong consequences. Research shows that when these children become teens, they are far more likely to take part in risky behaviors such as drug use, promiscuity, and other unsafe activities. ACEs can also increase the chance of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as the chance of mental illness, depression, and suicide.
My ACEs experience
My personal ACE score is eight out of 10. The only two ACEs I didn’t experience were physical neglect and a parent being physically abused. The trauma started early: I was just two years old when my parents divorced and things began to spiral out of control. The negative experiences built all the way into my teens, but I never recognized them as trauma until I was an adult.
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