Herner: The Weight of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse childhood experiences are incredibly common, and a local organization is looking to spread the word about what are commonly referred to as ACEs. 

According to a Centers for Disease Control study conducted from 1995 to 1997, ACEs can affect not only a person’s behavior and physical health later in life, but also how their offspring are wired. The study looked at more than 17,000 Californians’ childhood experiences as compared to their health and behavior as adults, and it focused on 10 adverse childhood experiences grouped into three categories: abuse, neglect and household challenges. Specifically, ACEs include emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, seeing the mother treated violently, household substance abuse, mental illness in household, parental separation or divorce, having a household member who engages in criminal activity, emotional neglect and physical neglect. 

The study found that those who had experienced adverse childhood experiences before age 18 had a higher chance of not only developing lifestyle issues such as alcohol abuse, smoking and drug use, but also physical effects including heart disease and liver disease. Almost two-thirds of participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience, and more than 1 in 5 participants reported three or more. The more ACEs a person had experienced, the more intense the negative health outcome. 

A group called ACE Nashville has repurposed the acronym to stand for All Children Excel. The organization offers online discussion and informational resources as well as action groups, all seeking to raise awareness about adverse childhood experiences in Nashville. Ingrid Cockhren’s job as chair of parent and community education for ACE Nashville is to give presentations on ACEs to area companies, deepening understanding of ACEs and their ongoing effects. The Scene spoke with Cockhren about those ongoing effects, the possibility of reversing or preventing them and more.

Are the effects of ACEs reversible in any way?

Yes. Reversible is a strong word, but definitely. So let’s say you have ACEs — it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to get cancer. People can definitely heal themselves. The earlier the intervention the better. You can make changes in the brain easier the younger you are. It’s better to have interventions younger, which means that if someone has these things going on as a child, then hopefully that child gets counseling. If that child has an adult who is there for them, or a school counselor or someone of that nature who helps them, those things will help.

But if not, say you get into adulthood and you want to resolve the issues from your childhood, you can go to counseling, you can do yoga. There are lots of things you can do to help with past traumas. It is work. You would have to work at it. Lifelong, after you’ve had a traumatic childhood, then you need to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself to combat the issues that you’ve had in your childhood. If you don’t, then you might have the lifelong repercussions, which would be the health issues and the mental issues.

Are there things we should be looking for to prevent adverse childhood experiences from happening in the first place

Parent training is a good preventative. So you have a new family, or expectant mothers. If they give training around ACEs, that would be good, or how to be a responsive parent. Another example would be going into high schools, before people become parents, to talk about how to interact with children or be the best parent they can. There’s preventative measures like home visits for new families — when people first have their children, to do home visits from social workers. Home visits are the most successful interventions for families in general. Then also, prevention looks like overall awareness of ACEs in our community — everyone knowing that this is a thing. 


To read the rest of the article by Hannah Herner from from Nashville Scene News, click here.

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