Adverse childhoods: How to tally impact

• Brain trauma expert Linda Chamberlain explains how ACE scores lend insight to help make lasting changes
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Family Violence Prevention Consultants Linda Chamberlain (LEFT) and Martha Ellen Anderson talk after the Adverse Childhood Experience Seminar Wednesday at Kachemak Bay Campus.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda - Family Violence Prevention Consultants Linda Chamberlain (LEFT) and Martha Ellen Anderson talk after the Adverse Childhood Experience Seminar Wednesday at Kachemak Bay Campus.

After a local health fair, people tend to know the important health scores on blood pressure and cholesterol. Another number important to health– and yet most have never heard of it– is your ACE number, or a tally on Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Dr. Linda Chamberlain, a national brain trauma expert who lives in Homer, gave a presentation Wednesday night at the invitation of MAPP of the Southern Kenai Peninsula. Before a packed audience she explained how ACEs unlocks the mystery of ways childhood trauma haunts people well into adulthood.
MAPP facilitates the Homer Prevention Project, at work now to find solutions for teen and adult binge drinking and other barriers to health.
The ACE story is one many in Homer are just now learning. Dr. Vincent Felitti hadn’t yet conceived of ACES in 1985 when he felt stumped at his obesity clinic on an affluent street in San Diego, Chamberlain said.
“Felitti was mystified.(The physician, chief of Kaiser Permanente’s revolutionary Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, Calif,) couldn’t figure out why, more than half of the people in his obesity clinic dropped out,” Chamberlain said. Although people who wanted to shed as little as 30 pounds could participate, the clinic was designed for people who were 100 to 600 pounds overweight.
The 50-percent dropout rate in the obesity clinic that Felitti started gave him pause. A cursory review of all the dropouts’ records astonished him — they’d all been losing weight when they left the program, not gaining. It made no sense. Why would people who were 300 pounds overweight lose 100 pounds, and then drop out when they were on a success course?
Felitti decided to ask one of the dropouts. “He accidently combined two questions and asked ‘how much did you weigh when you became sexually active?’ The woman, answered 40 pounds. He thought he had made a mistake, meaning to ask her another question. So he apologized and asked again,” Chamberlain said. “This woman burst into tears because it was at a young age, when she weighed 40 pounds, that she was first molested by her father.”
Felitti’s quest began there and turned into a 25-year project involving researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than 17,000 members of Kaiser Permanente’s San Diego care program. It would reveal that adverse experiences in childhood were very common, even in the white middle-class, and that these experiences are linked to every major chronic illness and social problem that the United States grapples with – and spends billions of dollars on.
The ACE’s legacy causes trauma from child neglect, emotional neglect, sexual abuse – and this causes a response in adults that leads them to a coping mechanism. For the obese, it might be eating. For others, it might be drinking alcohol to self medicate, or taking drugs.
“It’s not about what is wrong with you,” Chamberlain emphasized. “It’s about what happened to you. This creates an opportunity for self understanding.”
Instead of feeling blamed, the teen or adult can focus on changes based on the more healing touch of understanding and self-compassion.
Chamberlain gave an example of an 8-year-old boy named John. He lives with his parents and a 15-year-old sister. His older brother is jailed after committing a burglary on meth. John’s dad beats him and is verbally abusive to his mom. John’s mom gets depressed and sometimes doesn’t fix meals. John frequently goes to the nurse complaining of stomach aches. He’s behind in his lessons and loses his temper. He doesn’t have many friends.
Johns’ ACE score is 6-7. This is an indicator of 6 or 7 adverse childhood experiences he endures daily.
“The brain prioritizes survival. There is a panic button in your brain, called the amygdala, which is Latin for almond because that is how it is almost shaped, and this panic button gets stuck in replay,” Chamberlain said. The part of your brain – the prefrontal cortex that helps with reading and math, becomes more concerned with surviving day to day than with learning. So children in John’s situation have a hard time concentrating at school.
The epidemiology of the ACE Study and the brain research together have helped shed light on a way of diagnosing and treating social, behavioral and health issues like never before.
“It also provides insights about resiliency and recovery,and how awareness can help prevent transmitting trauma to the next generation,” Chamberlain said. “ACES plays a leading role in health problems and risky behaviors.”
The good news is that certain events happen at certain times in people’s lives “that absolutely changes us. A self understanding that helps us do better.” These ‘tipping points,’ as Chamberlain called them, offer a framework of hope. Many people coming out of nightmare childhoods tend to have excellent survival skills. Their ability to survive gave them strength and a ‘tipping point’ like making a happy marriage or enjoying a successful career, can help them go on to live productive lives.
New brain research contradicts old perceptions about what’s possible. It’s not a matter of nature versus nurture but rather of both taken together. The physical development of the brain also relates to stress because it can stunt development in key areas linked with reading and speech. But caring adults and professionals can help a person redirect a life and behavior though understanding.
“Stress happens. You have to learn to deal with it. But not too many stressful events and not for a prolonged amount of time and not without a caring relationship,” Chamberlain said. Toxic stress disrupts while a child’s brain is developing. Speaking skills may be delayed. The prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that transports communication from the left to the right side, doesn’t grow as large in traumatized children. This is the part of the brain that continues to develop until a young person reaches adulthood at age 25.
For mental health and medical professions alike, understanding ACES offers an opportunity to target help. Chamberlain is giving an ACE conference workshop for school, for example, that will help them identify people like John in the earlier story.
A school in Walla Walla, Wash, has become a national model for its work on ACEs as a ‘compassionate school.’ This is an approach that isn’t bent on punishment so much as redirecting behavior. Chamberlain showed a brief video of an interview with a teen who had turned his life around after a traumatic childhood. The school has racked an impressive graduation rate and ‘tipped’ people into new levels from an understanding of what ACEs are and how they impact the human body and brain.
Now Homer is at a tipping point as well, Chamberlain said. She spoke in light of recent social problems coming to light in the wake of a giant teen party.
“The framework of hope comes from offering social support, safety and predictability. This creates more pathways to reshape the human brain,” Chamberlain said. Where ever the tools of resiliency are strong – social connections and social supports – there is hope for overcoming adverse childhood experiences.
The ACE’s legacy causes trauma from child neglect, emotional neglect, sexual abuse – and this often leads them to negative coping mechanisms. It might be overeating, drinking alcohol to self medicate, or taking drugs.
“It’s not about what is wrong with you,” Chamberlain emphasized. “It’s about what happened to you. This creates an opportunity for self understanding.”
Instead of feeling blamed, the teen or adult can focus on changes based on the more healing touch of understanding and self-compassion.
Chamberlain gave an example of an 8-year-old boy named John. He lives with his parents and a 15-year-old sister. His older brother is jailed after committing a burglary on meth. John’s dad beats him and is verbally abusive to his mom. John’s mom gets depressed and sometimes doesn’t fix meals. John frequently goes to the nurse complaining of stomach aches. He’s behind in his lessons and loses his temper. He doesn’t have many friends.
Johns’ ACE score is 6-7. This is an indicator of 6 or 7 adverse childhood experiences he endures daily.
“The brain prioritizes survival. There is a panic button in your brain, called the amygdala, which is Latin for almond because that is how it is shaped, and this panic button gets stuck in replay,” Chamberlain said. The part of your brain – the prefrontal cortex that helps with reading and math, becomes more concerned with surviving day to day than with learning. So children in John’s situation have a hard time concentrating at school.
The epidemiology of the ACE Study and the brain research together have helped shed light on a way of diagnosing and treating social, behavioral and health issues like never before.
“It also provides insights about resiliency and recovery,and how awareness can help prevent transmitting trauma to the next generation,” Chamberlain said. “ACES plays a leading role in health problems and risky behaviors.”
The good news is that certain events happen at certain times in people’s lives “that absolutely changes us. A self understanding that helps us do better.” These ‘tipping points,’ as Chamberlain called them, offer a framework of hope. Many people coming out of nightmare childhoods tend to have excellent survival skills. Their ability to survive gave them strength and a ‘tipping point’ like making a happy marriage or enjoying a successful career, can help them go on to live productive lives.
New brain research contradicts old perceptions about what’s possible. It’s not a matter of nature versus nurture but rather of both taken together. The physical development of the brain also relates to stress because it can stunt development in key areas linked with reading and speech. But caring adults and professionals can help a person redirect a life and behavior though understanding.
“Stress happens. You have to learn to deal with it. But not too many stressful events and not for a prolonged amount of time and not without a caring relationship,” Chamberlain said. Toxic stress disrupts a child’s developing brain. Speaking skills may be delayed. The prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that transports communication from the left to the right side, doesn’t grow as large in traumatized children. This is the part of the brain that continues to develop until a young person reaches adulthood at age 25.
For mental health and medical professions alike, understanding ACES offers an opportunity to target help. Chamberlain is giving an ACE conference workshop for school nurses, for example, that will help them identify people like John in the earlier story.
A school in Walla Walla, Wash, has become a national model for its work on ACEs as a ‘compassionate school.’ This is an approach that isn’t bent on punishment but in redirecting behavior. Chamberlain showed a brief video of an interview with a teen who had turned his life around after a traumatic childhood. The school has racked an impressive graduation rate and ‘tipped’ people into new levels from an understanding of what ACEs are and how they impact the human body and brain.
Now Homer is at a tipping point as well, Chamberlain said. She spoke in light of recent social problems coming in the wake of a large teen party.
“The framework of hope comes from offering social support, safety and predictability. This creates more pathways to reshape the human brain,” Chamberlain said. Where ever the tools of resiliency are strong – social connections and social supports – there is hope for overcoming adverse childhood experiences.

Contact the writer
Posted by on Nov 14th, 2012 and filed under More News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses for “Adverse childhoods: How to tally impact”

  1. kim says:

    “This is an approach that isn’t bent on punishment but in redirecting behavior”

    All this time, talk and money to get to this solution which I have been telling you for months, and it didn’t cost a dime.

    These are basics of psychology we have known for decades.

    Now how much longer will it take to actually do something for the teenagers in town to help redirect their behavior?

  2. finally found it says:

    Todd Hyde suggested this 7 months ago in an Oped and is volunteering to teach kids Tech skills.

    How much longer will it take to actually do something? Two more years then the money runs out?

    How about we put the rest of the Homer Prevention Project money into actually doing something like suggested above for teenagers.

  3. john says:

    The old Homer Jobs Center would be good for a Creative Arts Tech Center as suggested, and the empty building next to Bay Realty would be good for Auto Shop/Welding/ large art projects.

  4. jane stevens says:

    If you want to keep up with developments about ACEs — how communities, states, organizations, agencies and individuals are implementing ACE- and trauma-informed practices — be sure to check out the news site, ACEsTooHigh.com, or join its accompanying social network, ACEsConnection.com.

  5. Deb says:

    This is very interesting and insightful. Thanks!

Comments are closed

Like us on Facebook