What Are ACEs, and How Are They Affecting Your Kids?

Posted by Idaho Youth Ranch on Jul 2, 2020 5:32:08 PM
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In 1953, Reverend James Crowe had a vision for a place where “wayward” young people could find a “reorientation of self.” His vision was a working ranch where young men (we expanded to include girls in the ’70s) would get the guidance and support they needed to find a path to a promising future. That’s when Idaho Youth Ranch was born.

In all the time since, we have always kept our mission first and continued learning along the way. We’ve used the latest research to guide our programs and create the most comprehensive organization addressing at-risk youth in the state, and we’ve trained our therapists to provide the highest standard of care for the young people whose lives and futures are in our charge.

In recent years, new research has emerged that validates what we’ve known for decades: that what happens to children early in life has dramatic implications on the rest of their lives. Medical science is catching up and making the link between childhood adversity and long-term health.

What’s wrong with you?

An at-risk child is easy to see. Behaviors like running away from home, cutting, suicide attempts, violent outbursts, and dangerous sexual encounters stand out and catch attention. Such behaviors demand intervention right away.

But what about the other behaviors? What about those small warning bells that start ringing in the third grade when a child can’t focus in class, has trouble learning simple concepts, or becomes “difficult to control”?

When most people see behaviors like these they ask, “What’s wrong with that kid?” Most people start throwing around words like “hyperactive,” or worse, they just assume that a child who can’t sit still, learn, or focus is intellectually subpar. In other words, “That kid is just not very smart.” Such children are denied opportunities for creative learning and advanced classes, and they are often punished by being forced to stay inside at recess or given extra homework to do. Their chances of graduating high school decrease, making them twice as likely to spend time in jail or prison as adults. In fact, twenty-year prison forecasts are determined in part by third-grade reading levels.

Today, the conversation is starting to change. Twenty years of research tells us there is a common denominator that is predictive of educational success, community health, depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide, and even health outcomes such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

That common denominator is a collection of experiences called Adverse Childhood Experiences.

What happened to you?

At Idaho Youth Ranch, we love sharing stories about how, with your help, we are able to help young people who are on dangerous paths overcome trauma and have promising futures.

We have the privilege of talking to and getting to know these kids. We hear the all the details about what happened in their lives that sent them spiraling in the first place—abuse, neglect, homelessness, sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence, and so much more.

Every story is different, and every story is the same. Kids come into our care and it always begins with, “What happened to you?” There is always an answer to that question.

Medical science is starting to catch up with what we in the mental health and community health sectors have known for a while.

Too much stress too soon and for too long creates long-lasting impacts on behavior, health, and success.

But the story goes much deeper than we ever knew.

Understanding Childhood Trauma

ACEs

In 1997, the scientists at Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control did a landmark study. They asked over 17,000 patients ten questions about experiences they had as children that fell into three areas: abuse, household challenges, and neglect.

The results were startling.

how common are acesThe Kaiser ACEs Study showed that 25% of the adults surveyed reported at least one Adverse Childhood Experience. The majority of those adults (87%) reported more than one experience, with 12.5% of those surveyed reporting four or more ACEs. Translated to the U.S. general population, almost 218 million Americans have had at least one adverse experience and over 40 million Americans have had four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences.

It’s important to note that the Kaiser ACEs Study involved a population that was not socio-economically skewed to the underprivileged. It was almost evenly split between males and females; 74.8% were white and just over 75% had attended college. The average age was 57. All had jobs and good health care.

Abuse and neglect can happen in any household. Bad things can happen to good people through no fault of their own. The important takeaway is that the majority of us have had experiences in our childhoods that affected our behavior as well as our health, and those experiences follow us throughout life.

This was just the first of many revelations uncovered by the study. The Kaiser Study opened up a new perspective not only into health outcomes, but it showed ACEs affecting academic, behavioral, and economic outcomes. We will discuss the impacts of ACEs in Section 2 of this report.

Calculate Your ACE Score

Adults with ACEs scores of 6 or more…

  • Are twice as likely to have heart disease
  • Are three times as likely to suffer from depression
  • Have a life expectancy twenty years lower than the average

ACEs, Impacts

Learn More About ACEs

Toxic Stress

There are three kinds of stress.

Positive stress invigorates people. For kids, it is the first day of school or going into the big test knowing they’ve studied. This type of stress is exciting and challenging.

STRESS-1

Tolerable stresses are the harder things in life that, with the support of a caring adult, become the hard times that become a strong foundation. These can be things like losing a loved one or other big changes in a child’s life. When managed with a supportive adult, these kinds of stresses in children tend to be important for their long-term emotional growth.

Toxic stress is an ongoing pattern of stress. These are stresses that keep a child’s developing brain on constant alert. When developing brains are exposed to chronic violence or neglect over long periods of time, the constant flood of hormones that go with stress affect their ability in other cognitive areas. For example, kids who have four or more ACEs are likely to struggle with focus and attention span. They are also more likely to experience health outcomes like asthma.

Toxic stress is chronic, long-term stress that keeps kids from growing and developing the way they should.

How You Help

ACEs are not necessarily a life sentence. Many people experience adversity and trauma, but with the help of a caring adult they went on to lead successful, happy lives.

Specialized therapies like those at Idaho Youth Ranch are effective in treating the behaviors associated with toxic stress.

For example, young people who grew up in violent or unstable homes often benefit from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which teaches them to be mindful of and stay in control of their emotions. Traumatized kids often have very big reactions to small daily stresses because their stress response systems are so overstimulated. DBT helps traumatized kids cope with stressful situations in healthy and productive ways by training their brains to have appropriate responses to stress.

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is also very effective in reversing the behaviors of long-term trauma. EAP allows kids to physically deal with stresses in a controlled environment so they are able to process complex emotions and gain insights as to how their behaviors impact their surroundings.

Idaho Youth Ranch’s supporters make therapies like these possible.

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Topics: Behavior, Equine Therapy, Animal-Assisted Therapy, Toxic Stress, dbt, ACEs