Blog: Toxic Stress

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study -- the Largest Public Health Study You Never Heard Of

This is Part Three of a three-part overview of the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experience Study -- the ACE Study. "Adverse childhood experiences" has become a buzzword in social services, public health, education, juvenile justice, mental health, pediatrics, criminal justice, medical research and even business. Many people say that just as you should know your cholesterol score, so you should know your ACE score. But what is the ACE Study? And do you know your own ACE score?
In the last 14 years, Drs. Robert Anda, Vincent Felitti and researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published more than 60 papers about the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Other researchers have referenced their work more than 1,500 times. Anda and Felitti have flown around the U.S., Canada and Europe to give hundreds of speeches.

Their inquiry "changed the landscape," says Dr. Frank Putnam, director of the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Pediatrics. "It changed the landscape because of the pervasiveness of ACEs in the huge number of public health problems, expensive public health problems --- depression, substance abuse, STDs, cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes."

Exposure to Violence has Long-Term Effect on Kids

Children exposed to violence express stress factors for up to a year, according to a new study from Penn State. This means that exposure to violence may have long term negative health consequences for kids.
From Science Daily:

"We know that exposure to violence is linked with aggression, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms and academic and cognitive difficulties in the short term, but little is known about the long-term effects of such exposure," said Elizabeth Susman, Jean Phillips Shibley Professor of Biobehavioral Health, Penn State. "Our data show that the stress reaction to violence exposure is not just immediate. There's an effect that endures."

 

A New Approach to School Discipline in Walla Walla, Washington

The first time that principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked. In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline. This is how it went down:
A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly:
“Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”
The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: “My dad’s an alcoholic. He’s promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises.” The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: “I shouldn’t have blown up at the teacher.”
Whoa.
And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.
“The kid still got a consequence,” explains Sporleder – but he wasn’t sent home, a place where there wasn’t anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn’t do. He went to ISS — in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk about anything with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.
Before the words “namby-pamby”, “weenie”, or “not the way they did things in my day” start flowing across your lips, take a look at these numbers:

2009-2010 (Before new approach)
798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
50 expulsions
600 written referrals
2010-2011 (After new approach)
135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
30 expulsions
320 written referrals

“It sounds simple,” says Sporleder about the new approach. “Just by asking kids what’s going on with them, they just started talking. It made a believer out of me right away.”