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What are ACEs? Adverse Childhood Experiences Explained

May 29, 2020

When traumatic events happen to us, the effects can be life-changing and long-lasting. Traumatic events that occur in our childhood are called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs for short.

Why do ACEs matter?

Mental health and physical health are connected. When we experience something traumatic, like domestic violence or substance abuse at home, our mind and body have a stress reaction. This reaction is commonly called “fight-or-flight.”

Experiencing constant stress, also called toxic stress, takes a toll on us. In fact, toxic stress can cause diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It also puts us at greater risk for things like sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, sex trafficking, and suicide.

Identifying ACEs

Childhood trauma can come in many forms. Sometimes trauma is what happens to us and sometimes it’s what we witness happen to others. ACEs include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Having a parent or caregiver with mental illness
  • Having a relative in jail or prison
  • Divorce

Side effects of ACEs

The effects of ACEs are compounding. This means that the more ACEs you experience, the more severe the consequences on your health are. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ran a study on ACEs. The study showed that adults who have experienced four or more ACEs during their lifetime had a higher risk of mental illness, behavioral problems, and diseases later in life.

How to prevent ACEs

By supporting healthy families, many ACEs, and the side effects that accompany them, can be prevented. These preventative measures are called protective factors.

Joy Chuba tells us, “The six protective factors are really crucial for healthy development and help children overcome experiences that can be difficult.” Joy is the Executive Director at Children’s Advocacy Center Osceola, which is a part of Embrace Families. She has worked in the field of child abuse for 23 years. She spoke to us about the protective factors and family health. 

Check out her Expert Chat and learn more about the six protective factors here.

How to heal from childhood trauma

Adverse Childhood Experiences are not your fault. These experiences are difficult and it’s important to process them. Sometimes, we need a friend, a trusted mentor, or a therapist to help us do just that.

There are several mental health resources in Osceola County if you are experiencing ACEs or need support. The following hotlines and organizations are available to help:

For more mental health resources, you can take the pledge to check-in and receive information straight to your inbox.

While we cannot change what happened to us in childhood, we can choose to cope with it and break the cycle. By doing so, we commit to leading healthier lives for ourselves and our families.


Email: info@thecheckinproject.ORG// Phone: 407-870-4897