Resource Supplement to Trauma Informed Podcast (guest blogpost Sara Robinson)

In the late 90’s, scientists conducted a study and the results of this research has entirely changed how we view our health. The outcomes of the study showed us that when we experience certain stressors in childhood, our health and wellness can be severely impacted. These stressors, or traumas, are called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, and they include things like experiencing abuse or neglect. (See the NPR infographic below, follow this link for a quiz)

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There are 10 major ACEs that we now know lead to over 60 different health issues in later life. This is because when a child experiences one of these traumas, or many of these traumas prior to age 18, their brains and bodies are exposed to toxic stress hormones. For example, if we repeatedly witness violence towards our mother, our brains go into fight, flight, or freeze mode, and over time this changes the brain structure, and these pathways in our brain start to hijack us. We get really, really good at fight, flight, or freeze, making us much more likely to respond to lesser stressors, like a test in school, with the same strong fight, flight or freeze response. Which makes us not able to think rationally like we need to on a test!

The more we are exposed to adverse childhood experiences, the more likely that changes occur in our brain. So then we may begin to have difficulties in our emotional or social lives. And as we know, often when people struggle, they also adapt unhealthy behaviors to help manage, such as substance abuse or unhealthy relationships. And over time, unhealthy and risky behaviors lead to disease, disability, social problems, and for many, early death.

So what does knowing about ACEs mean for us? Two things. One, if a child or adult has experienced ACEs, this means they are at an elevated risk for several health problems; however, the brain is plastic and people are resilient. So, we can learn skills to manage our stress responses, and how to make healthier choices. Two, if communities understand how ACEs impact the brain, they can also work to limit the dose their children are exposed to, reducing their risk for later health problems. Additionally, we can encourage add support the development of resilience. 

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Special Thanks to Sara Robinson for this week's blogpost.  For more, check out the Feb 15th podcast on Trauma Informed Education.