Frequently Asked Questions
Doesn't everyone experience some adversities in childhood?
Yes, but the ACE study did a good job at sorting out which ones are most likely to cause long term damage to someone throughout their lifespan. It also quantified exactly how damaging they are, and how they interact.
What are the ACE study factors?
There are three basic categories of factors; childhood abuse, childhood neglect, and household dysfunction. These, in turn, are broken down into ten separate experiences, all of which are given an equal weight.
So what exactly happens when a child experiences one of these things?
All of these events are so stressful to a child that they actually affect the way their brain grows and develops. The brain and endocrine system release chemicals that are useful in ensuring short-term survival, but are harmful to long-term health. They also make changes in the way cells interact with their own DNA.
How can things that happen in childhood have such a long-term effect on a child's future?
There are some logical relationships between some of these effects. A child whose brain developed under chronic stress is going to crave experiences that make that brain act normally. Alcohol, tobacco and street drugs all can help achieve those ends. Since the drive to use those is partially biological, it makes logical sense that this helps lead to the increased risk of addiction that is seen in people with high ACE scores. And the use of these drugs, in and of themselves, causes an increased risk for many of the diseases that ultimately kill people.
Aren’t things like abuse and sexual assault bad for adults, too?
Yes they are. However, an adult’s brain is much less flexible and less influenced by external events than a child’s brain. Children also have fewer coping mechanisms than adults do to enable them to deal with any and all forms of trauma.
What about a child who is rescued from a very abusive home while very young, doesn’t remember much of the abuse and then goes on to have a happy childhood?
If the child experiences an ACE, they experience it. Even if they have no conscious memory of the event, their body, brain and DNA were still were affected by it. It is certainly better for them to go on and have a happy childhood than an unhappy one- this contributes to resiliency. Therapies can help undo much of the damage. But forgetting the abuse, forgiving the abuser, etc., still doesn’t entirely undo the damage.
I have a high ACE score. Does that mean I should cash in my retirement fund now and enjoy the time I have left?
No. These numbers are statistical averages. Every teenager who commits suicide, for example, cuts many years off the average lifespan of people in the study group. People with high ACE scores can live long lives, especially if they are mindful of self-care.
What about children with high ACE scores? Isn’t it awful to say that a very young child is doomed, completely through no fault of their own?
There is evidence showing that many of the changes that happen in a child’s brain as a result of ACE’s can be largely reversed with appropriate therapies, especially if those therapies are started while the child is still young. This is why health care for children, including mental health care, must always be a priority. Yes, it is absolutely awful to say that a young child is doomed, completely through no fault of their own. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the evidence, as grim as it may be. Rather, it shows why it is so important that we work together to stop abuse.
How many people have each type of ACE?
- Emotional Abuse 10.6%
- Physical Abuse 28.3%
- Sexual Abuse 20.7%
- Emotional Neglect 14.8%
- Mother Treated Violently 12,7%
- Household Substance Abuse 26.9%
- Household Mental Illness 19.4%
- Parental Separation or Divorce 23.3%
- Incarcerated Household Member 4.7%
How many people have each ACE score?
- Number of people with an ACE of 0 36.1%
- Number of people with an ACE score of 1 26%
- Number of people with an ACE score of 2 15.9%
- Number of people with an ACE score of 3 9.5%
- Number of people with an ACE score of 4 or more 12.5%