Attention to Adverse Childhood Experiences
What are ACEs, why do they matter, and what can we do about them?
ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences are traumatic events that occur to an individual during childhood that can have an impact on every aspect of a person’s functioning, both physically and psychologically—long into a person’s adulthood. A good way of thinking about trauma is almost any experience that stresses an individual and overwhelms their ability to cope. These events could include a parent with a mental health or substance use issue, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, growing up in a crime-riddled neighborhood, or many other factors. With a score of 6 or more ACEs, individuals are at an exponentially higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular, or other diseases and a shortened lifespan. Even 2-3 ACEs can have a dramatic impact, and are correlated with a lower, but still significant development of a number of physical and psychological disorders, and reduced quality and length of life. For the original study, go to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). For an amazing video by one of the first professionals to use the results of ACEs to provide targeted, comprehensive, trauma-informed care, see the TED Talk by California Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris.
If children are surrounded by supportive adults that can listen and coach them through adversity and connect them with the right kinds of supports, many of the effects can be buffered. It is up to all of us—politicians, teachers, parents, doctors, and therapists—to notice and provide not just individual, but neighborhood, community, and government interventions and policies, that can mitigate the impact of ACEs. All our futures depend on it.
What are the practical ways people can heal from ACEs?
Screening for ACEs when a patient is connected with a new family doctor, at the start of each grade, or at intake to counselling or other social service by using an ACEs tool, which should not be used as a stand-alone, but to plan individualized care, including connecting the patient with services and identifying and reducing barriers that may prevent the client from accessing those services/complying with treatment.
Tracking and pooling ACEs data to show the prevalence of ACEs in schools or neighborhoods to recognize which areas need special attention. Learn how to make your organization more trauma-informed.
Join an ACEs-related working groups, such as the Local/Community Action Teams (contact for South Surrey/White Rock), Self-Healing Groups, which consist of doctors, therapists, teachers, and the public. Attend an annual ACEs Summit or Conference (i.e. http://www.sharedcarebc.ca/results/events-and-outcomes/aces-summit-2019)
Complete the free Brain Story certificate training from Alberta Family Wellness and learn about the trauma recovery process, including recommended treatments and self-care. Know that for many clients, talking about the actual traumatic events may not be necessary, if enough safety and stabilization and alternative behaviours can be built into one’s life. Once stable, clients (both children and parents), many clients benefit greatly from trauma-processing therapies such as Trauma-Focused CBT, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy/specialized Play Therapy, Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Somatic Experiencing, and as adjuncts, Neurofeedback/Neurotherapy, and Heart-Rate Variability Training, which the Certified Counsellor at Paramount, or its referral partners in the Community can provide.
Ask your doctor or refer yourself to a counsellor/therapist who is used to working with ACE or in BC find one through their respective association/licensing body: Psychologists (BC Psychological Association), Registered Clinical Counsellors (BC Association of Clinical Counsellors), or Canadian Certified Counsellors (Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association). Our wonderful Counsellor at Paramount, Richard Tatomir, MA, CCC, found here, can guide you through you or your child’s healing process and can be booked for a 15 minute free phone consultation through our reception at 604-560-8709. A Doctor referral is not necessary for working with Richard and most of our other service providers, and costs may be covered by your extended health/benefits plan through your employer.
Richard Tatomir, MA, CCC