Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Childhood trauma shown to have long-lasting impact

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 3:25 PM

Acing an exam is usually a good thing, but when it involves research into adverse childhood experiences, it's a very different matter. These experiences can have serious consequences on children’s performance in school.

About 200 health and education professionals met today at Monroe Community College to learn more about ACE research, exposure to childhood trauma, and how that trauma influences development and behavior. 

An ACE refers to a potentially harmful or traumatic experience in the early years of life, such as sexual abuse, being a witness to violence, homelessness, substance abuse in the home, or parental divorce. 

For example, in an updated report, the “Monroe County Youth Risk Behavior Survey” from the Monroe County Health Department, 23 percent of county students surveyed answered yes when asked if they have “ever lived with anyone who was an alcoholic, problem drinker, used illegal street drugs, prescription drugs to get high, or was a problem gambler.”

The health department surveyed more than 1,800 students ages 13 to 18 throughout Monroe County during the 2014-2015 school year. The students were asked a series of questions about potentially traumatic experiences.

According to the report, 21 percent have had someone in their household go to jail or prison; 19 percent said they have witnessed someone get shot, stabbed, or beaten in their neighborhood; and 42 percent said they do not live with both parents.

The theory behind ACE is that children’s brains are still developing and when they're stressed, they can’t learn. Research shows that more than 50 percent of students who are failing in school have four or more adverse experiences. Higher ACE scores can mean permanent problems with memory, reduction in problem-solving ability, and increased defiance and fighting.

And that’s just the beginning. ACE research began in the 1990’s after doctors probed their patients with certain types of health conditions about their childhood experiences. They found that exposure to adverse childhood experiences increases the risk of alcoholism, depression, heart disease, cancer, and suicide. Six or more experiences can reduce life expectancy by as much as 20 years, according to research that has been duplicated multiple times.

Nancy Sung-Shelton, who has long been a community activist and child advocate, took the discussion one step further and talked about the adverse impact of discrimination based on class, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Children learn to mask their pain because in some communities, exposing their emotional trauma is seen as a sign of weakness and can put them in danger of physical harm.

“A lot of these children do not believe they will make it past 21,” Sung-Shelton said.

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