What Sparked Your Childhood Trauma? How traumatizing was your childhood? The ACEs survey is a powerful tool that can reveal the magnitude and severity of adversity and trauma among our youth and parents.
Trauma is so pervasive in our society that it takes a rather comprehensive survey just to delineate the types of traumatic events children are experiencing. The adverse childhood experience (ACEs) survey, first published in 1998 as part of the ACEs Study by Doctors Felitti and Anda, asks a person what form of adversity he or she experienced as a child. It’s a checklist of potentially traumatic events with varying degrees of severity . In our book Anna, Age Eight we leave the language of academics behind to describe most of these experiences as “terrible, horrible, no-good and very bad.” The truth is that ACEs have led to an epidemic of childhood trauma and untreated adult trauma with costly emotional, physical and financial consequences.
With a quick online search, one can learn how the survey is being used with parents, teens and children. Some communities use the results as a call to action, advocating that local government fund trauma-informed behavioral health care in school and community settings. On the other side of the continuum are government leaders who think that adversity is character-building and if people are traumatized, then they should fix themselves.
The ACEs survey is finding its way into popular culture – there’s even a APP with the ten question survey we know 15 year-olds are using.
The survey that follows may bring up many memories and questions. Depending on your score and form of ACEs, it may also bring up feelings of sadness, fear, anger, confusion and trauma.
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE SURVEY
ONE: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often push, grab, slap or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
TWO: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
THREE: Did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or attempt, or actually have, oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with you?
FOUR: Did you often or very often feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special, or that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other or support each other?
FIVE: Did you often or very often feel that you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes or had no one to protect you? Or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed to go?
SIX: Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic? Or who used street drugs?
SEVEN: Was your parent or stepparent often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped or hit by a thrown object? Or sometimes, often, or very often, kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or hit with something hard? Or ever repeatedly hit for at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
EIGHT: Was a household member depressed or mentally ill? Or did a household member attempt suicide?
NINE: Were your parents separated or divorced?
TEN: Did a household member go to prison?
Reflecting on the results
Much is written on what an ACEs score can tell an individual. There are literally more than 1000 books on childhood trauma listed on amazon, most having a self-help/behavioral health care lens.
In our book, Anna Age Eight, we focus on what the ACEs scores tell us about the city and county we live in and its commitment to the safety of children. We write about the ten vital services needed to prevent ACEs, services that could be put in place in every community if the elected leaders made trauma-free and thriving childhoods a priority. We provide a blueprint for our mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, school board members and state lawmakers to create a seamless local system of safety and trauma-informed care for 100% of our families.
This should not come as a surprise but the levels of adverse childhood experiences like those listed above can predict to a degree all kinds of risky behavior later on in life. Put too many of them into a childhood, and pretty soon the risk of suicide, alcoholism, illicit drug use, prescription drug misuse, smoking, severe obesity, depression, risky sexual behaviors and sexually transmitted diseases go through the roof. Untreated trauma, due to ACEs, may diminish one’s capacity to learn, acquire and hold down a job, have healthy intimate relationships and be a successful parent.
Childhood trauma comes with high emotional and financial costs. There are a host of important questions to consider as we build the infrastructure to end childhood trauma. Consider the following one as a starting point: Are you willing to start a dialogue about trauma with your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and elected leaders?