Have you heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study? This impactful research study on the affects of toxic stress, adversity and trauma on children in the short-term and over the course of their lifetimes has changed the way many professionals working with children approach and connect with the children in order to best serve them.
Do you know your score? For those of us working with children, knowing our ACE score and doing the work associated with it is essential to our ability to work with challenging children. Just as it would be difficult to teach children to swim without knowing how to swim yourself, the concepts of mindfulness and neuroanatomy are essential to the ease with which one can teach and explain about our beautiful brains, how they work and how our past experiences shape and mold our thoughts we tell ourselves.
In Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body In the Healing of Trauma he writes about the pain of trauma and adversity and how it affects our bodies in ways we carry with us for years. Dr. Van der Kolk shares that through his clinical research and own experience, he has found that many times what keeps us “stuck” is the story we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves this story over and over and often this story is about us…”I am so stupid.” “If only I had done….” “It is all my fault.” A story about a traumatic experience which is remains in the present through the storytelling we do and is often worse than the trauma of the original event. In order to become unstuck, if you will, one must do the work, often with a therapist to move the event in to the past, so it becomes a really bad thing which happened to you instead of manifesting as ruminating thoughts or a story on a constant tape feed in your mind.
Every life is made up of stories which our brain likes. Our brain likes to associate events or things we have learned in a story formation, hence why Carol Gray’s “Social Stories” is so effective with students on autism spectrum. Being cognizant of our own personal ACE Score helps us to connect with students by viewing them through perhaps a different lens, a lens of ‘we are more alike than different.” My great uncle, Dr. Brandt F. Steele used to say, “parents parent how they were parented, unless they take intentional steps to heal their own hurts and learn from them.” Our parents did the best they could with what they had to give at the time.
“We can’t do better until we know better,” Dr. Maya Angelou.
In her book “Gifts of Imperfect Parenting” Dr. Brene Brown writes that some of our most precious gifts in parenting are through our mistakes and missteps as parents. Imagine the beautiful, luminous pearl nestled safely inside that sharp, ugly shell, which takes some elbow grease to open. We often have to work to find the prize we are searching for.
I recently discovered a new website www.acestoohigh.com again through a tweet!! Did I tell you that tweeting selectively (in terms of who I follow) has allowed me to just have a stream not a flood of articles I might otherwise miss? Love that Twitter. Hate overuse or bullying through it, though. Guess who I am referring to??
How Facing ACEs makes us happier, healthier and more hopeful, by Christine Cissy White, March 16, 2017 an excellent article by a writer who found her AHA moment upon reading the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and related science. At first wowed, referring to the experience as epic, joyful and full of relief. White claims, “This one study and it’s 10-question survey changed my life. It changed the way I see myself and feel about myself. It changed the way I parent, prioritize parenting and self-care. It altered the way I think about my past and my parents. It didn’t just change my personal life but my professional life as a writer, health activist and survivor.
White has made it her mission to talk about ACEs and to educate the public, individuals who may be in pain, as she was, a post-traumatic stress survivor with years of therapy under her belt who discovered more relief in reading the study than she had in decades of therapy to help her understand the effects of post-traumatic stress.
White sees the issue of ACEs as a social issue, a cause-and-effect thing, affecting society and and thus all of us in one way or another. White’s desire to impact parenting by educating parents and parents to be about their ACE score is “REALLY GOOD NEWS”.
It is positive.
It is proactive.
It is empowering.
It can change the future for children yet to be born.
It is INTENTIONAL. Purposeful and mindful. I wonder what my great-uncle would think of the ACE study. I imagine he as a well traveled presenter would be sharing the study with his audience of listeners, imparting the knowledge is power. None of us can change our pasts, but we can change our present and our future. Below is a verse which hung in his and my grandfather’s room as children. I think it is a fitting ending: a verse about making today the best for it prepares tomorrow to be something to look forward to waking and seeing the sun.