Adverse Childhood Experiences Part One: Defining ACES

When thinking about what to write about for this week I turned to my family and friends for some ideas. I recognized a pattern in their curiosity. They wanted to know about the impact of a person’s environment on their development. I considered how I would approach this topic in a way that was neutral and not specific to any specific theory. In counseling there are many theoretical orientations that hold different ideas and thoughts on what has an impact on an individual. To try and reduce all of that information to one post would not be doing it justice. So instead, I have found a neutral ground with supporting data for impact of potentially traumatic experiences on an individual aged 0-17 and their further development.

These experiences are known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACES. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2019), potentially traumatic experiences include:

  • Experiencing violence or abuse
  • Witnessing violence at home or in the community
  • Family member has attempted or died by suicide
  • Undermining of safety, stability, and bond in relationships
    • Substance misuse
    • Mental health problems
    • Instability due to parent separation or member imprisoned or in jail

You won’t find that only people of a certain race, economic status, or ethnicity experience these traumas. Unfortunately, those who experience financial and social hardships have been found to report the most experiences of ACES. “The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being” (CDC, 2019). In this study found in short that ACES affect the development of an individual in the following manner: historical trauma – local context -ACE, disrupted neurodevelopment, social, emotional, cognitive impairments, health risking behaviors – disease, disability, social problems, and early death. This is not a short chain of events, nor is it made up of positive or simple events. ACES are complex and cause distress which make them difficult to discuss, but even more important.

So, let’s talk about it. What is abuse? Well that varies across all people in their opinion, but according to the CDC there are three types of abuse: emotional, physical, and sexual.

Emotional Parent/guardian/adult who swore at you, insulted you, put you down, or behaved in a way to threaten harm
Physical Parent/guardian/adult slapped, grabbed, pushed, threw something at you, or hit you so hard there were marks or injury


Sexual Parent/guardian/adult/friend/stranger/ who was at least 5 years older touched or fondled your body in a sexual way, made you touch them, or attempt to have intercourse

Again, these experiences are not of the kind that an individual will feel safe to discuss with other people. I believe this is especially due to the conflicting opinions people hold about what is abuse and the intention behind these behaviors. With abuse can come shame and low self-esteem that can quiet an individual, as they take on the role of a victim. Other definitions important to understanding ACES include:

Household challenges ·         Violence towards mother

·         Substance abuse in household

·         Mental illness in household

·         Divorce/separation

·         Incarcerated

Neglect ·         Emotional: whether someone made you feel loved and important, presence of a supportive family or not

·         Physical: being taken care of, provided healthcare, lacking essential needs


What I have given you so far in and of itself can be overwhelming. I think the CDC’s findings on what experiences are considered traumatic can bring up confusion for people of different generations. Parenting styles, gender roles, and cultural norms have developed over time and what was considered socially acceptable at one point in time has been found to have significant detrimental effects on one’s psyche. Again, this topic is complex and can have many attributing factors and what I am sharing are the findings of only the CDC. We will continue this conversation next time by identifying the consequences of ACES on the development of an individual.

Until then, if you are curious about what your ACE score may be and what it means check out .

In our next discussion I will identify the common consequential effects of ACES including specific statistics to the number of ACES one is subjected to. If at any time you feel as though you need to discuss anything you have thought about in reading these posts, please feel free to reach out for help at Olive Branch Counseling at (708) 633-8000.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern


CDC. (2019, April 2). About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study |Violence Prevention|Injury             Center|CDC. Retrieved from   

CDC. (2019, December 31). Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence             Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. Retrieved from   

CDC. (2019, February 26). Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect |Violence      Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. Retrieved from   

2 thoughts on “Adverse Childhood Experiences Part One: Defining ACES

Add yours

  1. I am so glad to see this article, so well written, and with good resources. Will all the technology we give to kids in our days, we are damaging their brains and capacity to attach with other individuals healthily. As you said, the topic is very complex, and not all individuals will be prepared to receive or accept the information.

    Stay Safe 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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