Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is the term used to represent a group of negative experiences children may face or witness while growing up. These experiences include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; emotional or physical neglect; living in a household in which domestic violence occurs, or where a family member with substance-abuse or other mental disorder resides; parental separation or divorce; and an incarcerated family member.
In the original study of ACEs, begun in 1995 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, two-thirds of the more than 17,000 subjects who filled out confidential surveys about their childhood reported having experienced at least one ACE. Subsequent research has focused on how ACEs have affected people's physical and mental health and well-being as they age.
In general, individuals who have faced more ACEs have been found to be at higher risk for impaired cognitive and social development, as well as for drug abuse, unintended pregnancy, depression, PTSD, and even higher rates of injury.
However, not every person who has a rough childhood grows up to be maladjusted or unhealthy. Some children are less susceptible to the negative effects of their surroundings and carry less stress with them into adulthood. Other children who, for example, become used to handling parents’ mood swings and outbursts might develop a keen ability to detect others’ emotions and to pick up on nonverbal cues.