COVID-19 and ACEs

In my Introduction to Trauma-Informed Teaching course on Skillshare, I talk about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study from the CDC and Kaiser Permanente. Basically, the study determined that certain stressful or traumatic life experiences in childhood have a huge impact in adulthood and can lead to mental illness, physical illness, and early death. Kids with higher ACEs scores are more likely to have certain behavioral and learning problems in the classroom – hence the need for a trauma-informed approach to teaching.

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What situations are considered ACEs? The researchers determined that the following life events cause significant stress or trauma: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, divorce, and having a parent who abused drugs, had untreated mental illness, or went to prison. What do these experiences have in common? Usually, they involve long-term stress, feelings of chaos and lack of control, and cause the child to realize that the adults they rely on might not be able to keep them safe.

For the past several months, children in the United States and around the world have experienced chaos, uncertainty, change, and instability due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have to ask themselves questions that might not have occurred to them before: Will someone I care about get sick or die? Is it safe to go places? When will I be able to go back to school? What if my parents don’t have the power to keep me safe?

Basically, every child in 2020 is getting a plus one to their ACEs score simply by existing during this time. What can we, as the adults who care for them, do?

Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps The Score and leading expert in childhood trauma, shares in one of his courses that trauma response often has less to do with the trauma itself and more to do with the support a child receives after the traumatic experience. That is why being trauma-informed is so important. Parents, daycare providers, teachers, and therapists need to approach children through this lens now more than ever.

Published by Amy Marschall, Psy.D.

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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