Last week I shared some information about Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. If you missed that, read it here
To refresh your memory, ACEs are potentially traumatic events that happen in childhood including things that happen to a child personally – physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect – as well as things that happen in a child’s family – a parent who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member who’s in jail or prison, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and separation/divorce of parents.
Each type of trauma counts as one ACE.
A toddler who has been neglected, physically abused, has an alcoholic parent, and has a mother who has been beaten has an ACE score of 4.
Unfortunately, that’s not a made-up scenario, and worse, I’ve treated dozens of children who had more than one ACE by the age of 2. In case I need to state the obvious, every child who has been placed in foster care has an ACEs score. If you’re a therapist, I know you’ve seen it and are seeing it now too.
Since sending out that email, I’ve heard from dozens of parents and therapists who shared their stories of heartbreak with me.
If these things have happened to your child or to you, I want to tell you I’m sorry. And I hope I’m not the only person who’s said that you, but in case I am, I want you to hear it from someone today…
I am so sorry that cruelty happened to you.
I am sorry that the people who were supposed to love and protect you did not.
I am sorry.
In case you’re thinking this email is all gloom and doom, not so fast…
Since publishing that post, at least 10 therapists emailed to tell me that ACEs are partly responsible for their career choice… speech-language pathologists, psychologists, preschool and special ed teachers, and other early interventionists.
Even more parents and grandparents wrote to tell me that the post resonated with them and they were more committed than ever to doing what they can to help.
That’s incredible and it supports what the research reveals…
Building resilience is what counteracts the negative long-term effects of ACEs.
That should be our main focus for kids and families who have lived through trauma… helping them discover protective mechanisms so that they don’t just move on, but thrive.
Just as no child is “magically resilient or invulnerable to ACEs, no individual child is automatically doomed in the face of ACEs either.” (from the Minnesota Dept. of Health, a fantastic resource for more information about ACES.)
By the way, almost 2/3 of adults report at least one ACE. More than 20% of adults reported three or more ACEs. I am in that group and so is my husband. (If you’re interested, here’s an online quiz
Fortunately, there are very concrete things we can do to help little kids and families build resilience. If that feels like an overreach for you as a speech-language pathologist or a parent or grandparent, keep reading. I have good news!
In my original post, I wrote about developing nurturing, protective relationships with a child.
Even ONE positive, supportive adult in a young child’s life can make an life-altering impact.
Be there for that child.
Just be there.
Listen to them.
Play with them.
Relish your time together.
Above all, lavish love.
You can do that.
I want to give you one more thing you can do.
In subsequent readings about treating childhood trauma, one very practical recommendation is to develop routines.
Turns out, when we implement routines in the midst of chaos, we’re providing framework and structure, teaching a child (and ourselves!) what to expect.
The mental health literature is full of evidence to support the positive impact of daily routines for adults and children. Predictable routines help us cope with change, create healthy habits, improve behavior, and reduce stress.
So in addition to creating strong personal connections with children, we should strive to create our own routines during our time with children and help families develop and enhance their own routines too.
I’ve written LOADS about the value of developing verbal routines for toddlers with language delays. Saying the same things, in the same way, at the same time helps young children make sense of what they’re hearing. They learn what words mean and how to use those words with you in a specific context. (You can find links to those resources below.)
I’ve also written lots about making sure our play routines with kids with developmental delays have a predictable beginning, middle, and end, proving once again that repetition is how we learn everything…
Including that we’re okay…
the loving people around us are okay…
and that things are going to be okay.
Helping a child learn to develop resilience may not be as daunting as it sounds afterall.
For help developing FUN play routines with toddlers, my best resources are:
Teach Me To Play WITH You
– a manual full of games with step-by-step instructions and goals for parents and therapists to use themselves then teach parents
Let’s Talk About Talking
– a comprehensive guide to determining what skills a nonverbal child is missing and how to teach those skills including pages and pages of activities or routines
Throwing off the things that so easily entangle today… Hebrews 12:1 -2