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Adverse Childhood Experiences are Different than Child Trauma, and it’s Critical to Understand Why

Bartlett, Jessica Dym.;Sacks, Vanessa – 2019

This blog explains the difference between “childhood adversity” that refers to a wide range of circumstances or event that prose a serious threat to a child’s physical or psychological well-being, and “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs), a term coined by researchers Vincent Felitti, Robert Anda, and their colleagues in their seminal study conducted from 1995 to 1997 that refer to a subset of childhood adversities. The researchers asked adults about childhood adversities in seven categories: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; having a mother who was treated violently; living with someone who was mentally ill; living with someone who abused alcohol or drugs; and incarceration of a member of the household. Researchers found that the more ACEs adults reported from their childhoods, the worse their physical and mental health outcomes (e.g., heart disease, substance misuse, depression). It is noted that the term ACEs has since been adopted to describe varying lists of adversities. The terms “trauma” is then defined as one possible outcome of exposure to adversity, and “toxic stress” is discussed as a reaction to childhood adversities that can over-activate a child’s stress response system, wearing down the body and brain over time.