September 3, 2019

The Cognitive Impact of Childhood Traumatic Events

Written by Rachel Eddins

cognitive impact of traumatic eventsDuring childhood, we each experience countless events. These can range from mundane to extreme. The events that fall into an extreme category can play a major role in how we live our lives. When such events are negative or traumatic, they are known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs.

Every child has ups and downs. An ACE is a different level of stress. It’s intense, chronic, traumatizing, and carries with it innumerable costs. Thus, this can include paying the highest price of all: a shortened life consumed with mental and physical diseases.

Examples of Adverse Childhood Events

Unfortunately, there is no complete list of ACEs and their infinite variations. There are, however, commonly seen categories in the realm of childhood trauma.


  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse

Family Member-Related

(Again, countless variations here but the following examples are useful for explanation)

  • Someone in your family is incarcerated
  • Mother is a victim of domestic abuse
  • Alcoholism in either or both parents
  • A family member diagnosed with a mental condition
  • Loss of a parent through death or divorce or any form of abandonment

Other ACEs:

  • Witnessing abuse
  • Loss of a caregiver
  • Bullying
  • Racism and/or sexism
  • Homelessness
  • Injury, accident, or illness
  • Dealing with the foster care or juvenile justice system

These are not rare instances. Of course, unreported cases are rampant. But even so, studies have found at least two-thirds of adults lived through a single ACE. In addition, some 40 percent of children endure at least two adverse childhood experiences. This is a serious, all-too-common occurrence with long-lasting cognitive impact.

The Cognitive Impact of Traumatic Childhood Events

Adverse childhood experiences cause toxic stress. Left unchecked, this stress damages the development of a child’s brain. Without support, children of toxic stress experience an overload of hormones that impact the structure of their brains. This is happening during a time of rapid cognitive development.

These traumatic events leave a child in a state of high alert, virtually 24/7. A child’s brain is not equipped to deal with this workload. This results in depression, anxiety, and a host of life-altering mental illnesses. Their bodies are also under constant assault. For example, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline increase blood pressure and decrease cardiovascular health.

As it is impossible to provide a full list of the range of adverse childhood experiences, we also cannot fully gauge the damage they create. Here are just a few of the issues and conditions found to be directly and indirectly related to ACEs:

  • Career and workplace issues
  • Substance abuse: drugs, alcohol, etc.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Addictive behavior, from smoking to sex and beyond
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Chronic diseases, including heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, anorexia nervosa, gastrointestinal issues, hyperthyroidism, and more
  • Propensity toward suicide attempts
  • Dramatically shortened life expectancy

What’s absolutely crucial to remember is timing. The trauma and pain that accompany adverse childhood experiences wreak havoc on a young brain. Hence, childhood is a time of rapid and important cognitive development. If this development is hindered by the introduction of toxic stress, a child’s brain is not capable of managing such crises. Our children need our help.

Getting Help with Adverse Childhood Events

As you can see, traumatic childhood events demand our committed attention. If you know a child enduring such strain please seek help. In addition, that child can benefit greatly from counseling. There is so much to process before healing can begin. The same goes for adults seeking to recover from the adverse childhood events that impact them today. There are many proven therapeutic methods in place for ACE survivors. The first step is to reach out for more information. Eddins Counseling Group, in Houston, TX offers counseling for trauma and children. Reach out today at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online.

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