Recognizing one’s own traumatic childhood experiences can help us develop resilience for the current global traumas we are facing.
I work with Jane Stevens, founder and publisher of ACEsConnection.com, to write profiles of professionals who have integrated what’s known as ACEs science (adverse childhood experiences) into their professional and often their personal lives as well.
Since March 2020, ever since the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns struck, I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed how these additional stresses, especially when they might lack shelter or live with an abusive partner, affect their health.
First, a word about ACEs, which refers to the landmark 1998 CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study of 17,000 adults conducted by Drs. Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda. The study found a relationship between 10 types of childhood traumas — such as living with an alcoholic or depressed parent or experiencing abuse or neglect — and the adult onset of chronic illness, violence, or being a victim of violence. Since the ACE Study was published, many other types of ACEs – including racism, bullying, and community violence – have been added to subsequent ACE surveys.
The ACE Study found that the higher someone’s ACE score — the more types of childhood adversity a person experienced — the higher their risk of social, economic, and health consequences. The study found that most people (64%) have at least one ACE; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4 or higher. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent. And the research participants were mostly White, middle and upper-middle class, had attended college, had jobs and great health care, because they were all Kaiser health members. (For more information about how this works and about the full complement of ACEs science, go to ACEs Science 101. To calculate your ACE and resilience scores, go to: Got Your ACE and Resilience Scores?)
The ACE surveys — the epidemiology of childhood adversity — are one of five parts of ACEs science, which also includes how toxic stress from ACEs damages children’s brains, the short- and long-term health effects of toxic stress, how toxic stress is passed on from generation to generation, and research on resilience. Resilience research shows how individuals, organizations, systems, and communities can integrate ACEs science to solve our most intractable problems, such as domestic violence.
I met Jane Stevens, an award-winning and future-oriented journalist, around 2000, when I invited her to speak at a panel I hosted, called the Berkeley Cybersalon, on how new technologies might affect the way media is created and delivered. About nine years ago, Jane told me she wanted to start a news site about ACEs science and a social network for people who want to integrate ACEs science into their lives or organizations, including schools, prisons, hospitals, businesses, social work agencies, the faith-based community…in other words, everywhere.
It took a couple of years to ramp up the sites, but after funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the California Endowment, both ACEsTooHigh.com and ACEsConnection.com, the social network, took off. ACEsConnection.com now has more than 45,000 members and more than 300 ACEs initiatives in cities, counties, states and nations. Several articles that Jane and other members of ACEsConnection have written have gone viral, including one about a high school in Walla Walla, Washington, that reduced suspensions by 85% in one year by integrating ACEs science. It’s had more than 800,000 page views, and inspired James Redford to make the documentary Paper Tigers. The message of the film and of ACEs resilience training is not to ask a person “What’s wrong with you?” and instead to ask “What happened to you?”
Redford helped further spur knowledge of ACEs science and its adoption with Resilience, which focuses on how the health care and early childhood education communities are integrating ACEs science. The two films have been screened more than 100,000 times in communities around the world.
The people I’ve profiled this year have not only helped others get through the added stress of self-isolation, they’ve also helped me – their interviewer – relieve some of the tension and anxiety I’ve felt as a solo professional working remotely and as someone over 70, therefore more vulnerable to the deadly effects of this virus.
Danette Glass, a social justice and youth development advocate in Alpharetta, Georgia, and one of the people I interviewed, enlisted the help of her mother to scale ACEs science throughout black communities in America. That’s because in the original ACE Study, less than two percent of the respondents were people of color.
Earlier this year, Glass said, “We are going to see an escalation of reported trauma exposure because right now young people in homes are not able to communicate the maltreatment they are experiencing.” She also emphasized – and made me aware – of how this crisis is affecting the mental health of parents. She added, “If they do not know how to manage or control their emotions in a positive manner, sometimes their children become the target of their frustration.”
I also interviewed pediatricians, social workers, mental health counselors, teachers, daycare center providers, nurses, and a physician’s assistant, who told me she was proud to be an essential worker, “to help the greater good of my community and the general population. We are all in this together.”
And it was this last comment – “We are all in this together” – that inspires me to interview and profile what this valiant social network calls “ACEs Champions.” ACEs science and ACEs knowledge, I continue to discover, has the power to help people develop the strength to deal with the struggles we all face today.
Check it out yourself at ACEsConnection.com.
Sylvia Paull, Silicon Valley PR connector, event host, blogger