Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study- Impacting the Way We Interact with Youth & Adults

Most have never heard of the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study which followed over 17,000 people and studied the impact of childhood trauma (e.g. divorce, abuse, neglect) on adult health. The results are fascinating. We work with hundreds of teachers that we think would benefit from learning more about the ACEs study.

The number of ACEs a person has are strongly associated with behaviors such as: smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, severe obesity, depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and shorter lifespan.

Having 4 adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, and double the risk of being diagnosed with cancer.

An ACE score over 6 was associated with a 30-fold (300%) increase in attempted suicide. The statistics are staggering and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another study found that students with at least 3 ACEs are 3 times as likely to experience academic failure, 6 times as likely to have behavioral problems, and 5 times as likely to have attendance problems.

10 types of childhood trauma were measured in the ACEs study – 5 were personal and 5 were related to family:




  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The trauma experienced can even alter a child’s or adult’s brain architecture (see image of three-year-old brains). The more types of trauma experienced — the higher the ACE score — the more likely the addiction or negative behavior.

This same study contains a seed of hope: all of the above-mentioned risk factors—behavioral as well as physiological—can be offset by the presence of one dependable and caring adult. It doesn’t need to be the mother or the father. It doesn’t even need to be a close or distant relative. More often than not, that stable, caring adult is a teacher.

To learn more, here are additional resources:

Paper Tigers (documentary)
Set within and around Lincoln Alternative High School in a rural community in Washington, Paper Tigers asks the following questions:
– What does it mean to be a trauma-informed school?
– How do you educate teens whose childhood experiences have left them with a brain and body ill-suited to learn?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Huffington Post (interesting read)
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study — the Largest Public Health Study You Never Heard Of