July 8, 2019
Adverse Childhood Experiences: What ACE Survivors Need Right Now
Written by Rachel Eddins
In most cases, the word “ace” gives off a positive — even powerful — energy. But when it’s the acronym for adverse childhood experiences, ACE becomes ugly and sad.
The acronym evokes trauma, violence, abuse, and the long-term negative impact they can impose on a young person’s life. ACE survivors need a wide and ongoing range of support modalities. They also need help right now.
What is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)?
An adverse childhood experience (or event) comes in many forms. All of these traumas create high levels of stress that present a danger to a child’s brain development. Examples of ACE include:
- Neglect and abandonment
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Verbal humiliation
- Witnessing violence and/or crimes
- Substance abuse in the household
- Relentless and stressful parental conflict
- Incarcerated family member
- Economic hardship
- Navigating mental illness in a family member or any influential person
Almost half of the children in the United States have experienced at least one ACE. Adding to this, roughly one in ten children have endured three or more ACEs.
The incidence of ACEs varies between different races and ethnicities. This presents some common threads — across all regions of the U.S.:
- The lowest ACE rate in every region is among Asian children (national rate: 23 percent)
- The next highest is white (national rate: 40 percent)
- Much higher is Hispanic (national rate: 51 percent)
- The highest numbers are for black children (national rate: 60 percent)
Clearly, adverse childhood experiences have become a major public health issue and the impacts can span across a lifetime.
How Do Adverse Childhood Experiences Impact Health Across a Lifetime?
The impact of ACEs is both physical and emotional. Such children have demonstrated an increased risk of substance abuse (cigarettes, drinking, drugs, etc.), heart disease, depression, and a wide range of dangerous and unhealthy behavior choices. The outcomes range from measurable to intangible, e.g.
- Higher school drop-out rates
- Lower self-esteem
- Altered stress-response functions
- Increased rates of suicide
Those with multiple ACEs often die 20 years earlier than their life expectancy. Financially, studies find the lifetime cost of ACEs adds up to $124 billion in the U.S. alone. Again, this is a major — yet widely under-discussed — public health crisis. It deserves focus and long-term planning. But the individual victims also need support and guidance in the meantime.
What ACE Survivors Need Right Now:
Our Acceptance and Recognition
Our society is getting better at this but still has a ways to go in making victims feel safe to discuss their experiences. It’s our task to recognize the prevalence of adverse childhood events. We must also accept the survivors’ need to be validated and to seek healing.
Normalize the Discussion of Their Experiences
Victims leave in shame and in fear. As friends or family members, we can help by normalizing the conversations the victims need to have. Moreover, it’s crucial that we give them space and we practice a non-judgmental listening style. The abuse that happens before a child’s brain has developed can take a long time to be processed. Be patient and let the victims set the timetable (if they choose to have one).
When ACE Survivors Need Professional Help
ACE survivors desperately need the love, understanding, and support of the people in their everyday lives. In many cases, they also require some kind of professional intervention. Unresolved issues and unrecognized feelings can be excavated and explored in a therapeutic relationship. Other times, the loved ones of an ACE victim can benefit from counseling. They can learn how to better understand the situation and support the person. It’s important to remember that an ACE survivor is just that: a survivor. They deserve access to whatever kind of healing is deemed necessary. They all deserve our compassion and support.
Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, TX has several qualified and experienced trauma specialists that can help ACE survivors move beyond their traumatic experiences. Call us today at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online.
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