Sunday, May 31, 2020
‘Resilience’ Film to Address Toxic Effect of ACES
Sunday, April 28, 2019


They’re called ACES. But you don’t want to hold them in your hand.

These ACES stand for Adverse Childhood Experiences. They include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. They include having a parent with a substance abuse problem, a parent who has spent time in jail, a parent with a mental illness. Being a child of divorce is on the list and so is violence in the home.

And the more ACES you hold in your hand, the more likely you are to abuse alcohol or drugs or end up homeless. Six or more ACES means you're likely to succumb to something like heart disease, cancer or diabetes 20 years prematurely.

You can learn more about these adverse childhood experiences and the cutting-edge things pediatricians, educators and others are doing to protect children from this dark legacy of toxic stress during a free screening of the hour-long documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope” on Tuesday night.

The film, directed by James Redford (yup, Robert’s son), will be shown at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater in Hailey’s Community Campus. It will be preceded by a brief introduction and followed by a question-and-answer session.

“The good news: What’s predictable is preventable,” said Vashti Summervill, a parent coach who serves as secretary of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition Board and produces the podcast “Teen Connectivity.”

Researchers only recently discovered the biological syndrome caused by abuse and neglect during childhood. And, as “Resilience” show, toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the brains and bodies of children, putting them at greater risk for heart disease, cancer and other disease, homelessness, prison time and early death.

Doctors in Idaho are just beginning screen children for ACES. And, so far, the news is not good. About 38.5 percent of Idaho children 5 and under have ACES versus 35 percent nationally. Half of Idaho youth under 17 have at least one ACE versus 46 percent nationally.

"The main part of our initiative is getting everyone to understand that ACES follow them into adulthood," said Julie Carney, a school social worker. "The effects of trauma last a lifetime in toxic stress. However, healing from toxic stress is possible at any time through reaching out and developing relationships with others, increasing a connection to having a meaningful life and being aware of what toxic stress means to you."

ACES were introduced to teachers and counselors at last year’s Idaho Prevention and Support Conference, which is held every year at Sun Valley Resort. And this year presenters were talking about BCEs (benevolent childhood experiences) and HOPE (Healthy Outcome with Positive Experiences) that can help mitigate the adverse ones.

Audry Alberstadt Kennedy, the Statewide Behavior Coordinator, cautioned teachers that what they think may be willful misbehavior may in fact be the response of a traumatized child who hasn’t learned to regulate his emotions.

A child who is accustomed to the sound of bottles breaking at home, for instance, may go into a fight-or-flight frenzy at the sound of the school buzzer or loudspeaker, Kennedy told many of the 650 teachers attending the conference last week.

A teacher yelling at students may evoke thoughts of their parents fighting.

“Children with trauma need an immediate out,” she said, adding that it’s more traumatizing for a child to witness their mother being beaten than if they experience the beating themselves. “You may need to allow them to say, ‘I need a few minutes. I’m going to step out and I will be right back.’

Kennedy recounted how one school pairs every at-risk child with an adult who spends a couple minutes with them in the morning, expressing how excited they are to see them. That adult also checks in with them at the end of the day.

They list goals and recognize achievement to help build trust and self-confidence. But reinforcement may look different to a trauma kid, Kennedy cautioned. Praise may not be valuable. Tangibles may be meaningless.

 “But, even for a child who has many awful things happen to him, all it takes is one person—the power of one,” said Summervil.

Only 30 percent of children without ACES display learning or behavior problems. Just over half of those with four or more ACES do.

Trauma in early childhood affects brain development, turning things upside down as the child focuses on survival, rather than cognitive development as their peers might be.

It’s important to reach them early, Summervil said, as a child’s brain is 30 percent developed at birth and 90 percent developed by the age of 5

We’re on track to have fewer suicide attempts among Idaho youth this year, said Summervil.

But, still, 35 percent of Idaho students said they were so hopeless for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.

One in 10 attempted suicide during previous 12 months, according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. And 21 percent said they purposely tried to hurt themselves.

That said, 71 percent said they have at least one adult in school they can talk to about their problems.  And 71 percent of high school seniors say they have built a relationship with an adult at school over four years.

Tuesday’s film screening is sponsored by The Advocates, Blaine County School District, the Wood River chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Blaine County Probation and Blaine County Juvenile Probation.

"Our initiative is striving to bring all sectors of our community together--government, businesses, schools, hospitals, civic servants, nonprofit and for-profit organizations--to learn about the language that is ACES.and of the Community Resilience model we've set up to have a resilient-based Blaine County," said Carney. "Not to ask what is wrong with you or stop at what happened to you but to take it further and say, 'How were you able to make it through?' and 'Let's build together on increasing that.' "



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