We were having a discussion with a group of middle school students who were processing the death of a boy in their school. Just before the session started I was told, “she lies.” The comment took me by surprise. The person who made the comment went on to explain that the student he was referring to most likely didn’t even know the boy who died but she would paint a much different picture. Indeed she did! Her sharing was detailed, elaborate and quite unbelievable. Although I wonder, was it unbelievable because I had been warned?
Prior to becoming a Certified Trauma Practitioner, my level of irritation with someone fabricating a story in order to receive attention was significant. Perhaps so significant that it was apparent to those around me. Since having trauma training in 2018, I find myself being more tolerant in such situations. In this case, I nodded and offered validation while still making sure everyone had room to process and share.
On my drive home, I reflected on the discussion and the way this young student showed up. I wondered, what has happened to her and how do her lies benefit her? Prior to a greater awareness about trauma, I would not have asked those questions. I further wondered, what assumptions do other make about her and what questions do those supporting her ask? I imagine it is easier to ask, what is wrong with you, especially after repeated exposure to her lies. Nevertheless, how would understanding her past provide insight into what she most needs?
While I don’t have answers to the questions I pondered, I realized that my mindset has shifted since the trauma training. I am less likely to assume that something is “wrong” with a person when I find their behavior irritating or hard to handle. Instead, I wonder, how we can better support those who have experienced trauma and what is my role in that work?
Special Projects Coordinator, Calhoun Intermediate School District
Board Vice President, Lakeview School District
As a home visiting parent educator, I have had the great honor and pleasure of working with many different kinds of families over the years. Throughout these years, I have discussed many topics with families that are relevant to them. A recent topic of conversation with many of the families I serve has been trauma and the ACEs survey. I have introduced this on a very light level as to not confuse the families too much since this topic can be very complex.
These families were very receptive and many reacted as if a light bulb went off. Some parents felt validated and understood. I highly encouraged these families to share their ACE score with their doctor and to have an open conversation with their medical team in the event they have not heard of the ACE survey and the effects of trauma on the whole body. So as to not leave these parents feeling discouraged with a high ACE score, I also told them six things they can do to help treat the effects. These are according to the book, “The Deepest Well” by Nadine Burke-Harris and are: sleep, mental health therapy, healthy relationships, exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness and meditation.
Additionally, I have shared infographs and flyers regarding trauma to local licensed home childcare providers who see many children everyday in their home. This has been very helpful not only to the providers, but to the children, the families, and the community.
Parent Educator, Licensed Home Childcare Coach
CISD, Battle Creek Mi.
The following commentary published this month in Lakeview Living, a limited distribution magazine on the south side of Battle Creek that I wrote on behalf of The Arc of Calhoun county. I tried to make the most of my allotted 500 words. Free free to share. Or better yet, feel free to write your own posts for this blog and publication that will consider it. Still a lot of awareness-building to do even as we shift our focus to implementing solutions.
We throw a lot of medication and money at our community’s most stubborn health and social problems — and often wonder at the lack of progress. But what if the solution was something far more basic? What if the answer lies in how we treat one another?
Science is telling us that just might be the case.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, better known as the ACE Study, is far from basic. Published in 1998, it was the first study to correlate negative childhood events such as abuse, neglect and family dysfunction with lifelong health and behavioral problems.
Drs. Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, the authors of the study, even created an index of trauma exposure to help assess patients’ risks for some of the health problems. Your “ACE score” helps you assess your own exposure to childhood stress and provide insight into your own health risks.
Here’s how it works: The ACE questionnaire consists of a set of 10 yes-or-no questions: When you were growing up, did a parent or adult in the house beat you? Beat each other? Did any of them sexually abuse you? Emotionally ignore you? Were any of them alcoholics? Drug users? Incarcerated? Mentally ill? Did you ever feel that you didn’t have enough to eat? Were you neglected?
The higher the number of yes answers, the higher your risk. People with a score of four or higher are about six times more likely to struggle with depression and seven times more likely to become alcoholic. They’re twice as likely to have heart disease, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer. They’re about 12 times more likely to have ever attempted suicide. People who have experience six or more ACEs can lose 20 years of life.
Scary stuff, but there’s good news: The ACE study and the 20 years of research has uncovered strategies that significantly reduce those risks. In our workshops, local experts emphasize that the ACE score is not a diagnostic tool, but a tool to help predict risks. And the medical research is clear: What is predictable is preventable.
When we talk about prevention, we talk about resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt positively to adverse events, and what the science tells us is that resilience isn’t something that we’re born with. It’s something that gets built through supportive relationships. Ideally, those relationships happen at home, but whole communities can become resilient, too.
Understanding how that happens is the essence of becoming a healing or “trauma-informed” community. Over the past 12 months, a small group of local people of have committed to making Battle Creek such a community. We’ve worked with schools, medical practices, health workers, churches and law enforcement, but we’re just getting started. We could use your help.
Creating a trauma-informed community requires a paradigm shift that can only come when the residents of our community demand it. That’s you.
If you’d like to be part of this movement, we’d love to hear from you.
Michael McCullough is board president of The Arc of Calhoun County, co-chair of the Great Start Collaborative/BC Pulse Healthy & Developmental On Track Action Team and co-creator of thewellbc.org, a resource for healing in Battle Creek and beyond. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I read this post on ACEs Connection this morning and was again struck by the force of Dr. Vincent Felitti’s discovery — and my frustration at the pace with which this knowledge is being integrated into the practices and policies of our health and human services sectors.
Felitti told conference attendees that after the first publications of the ACE Study, he integrated the original 200-question survey into the Health Appraisal Center at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, which he ran. After 440,000 patients had answered the questions as part of their bio-social-physical health assessment, he and his colleagues learned that the protocol around asking people about their childhood trauma had cut down emergency room visits by 11 percent. He noted that patients filled out ACEs questionnaires in the comfort of their homes, followed up by an appointment with their doctors who asked, “’Could you tell me how these things have impacted you later in life?’ And we listened, period.”
That interest made a difference: ”Patients told us that they had told the darkest secret of their life to the doctor and the doctor was still nice to them, and wanted to see them again,” he said.
The progress of the past 20 years since the publication of the ACE study certainly merits celebration, but from what I see we’re still going against the current.
Feedback from recent presentations included incredible interest in this easy-to-use strategy to help children and adults. We’ve developed this postcard for anyone interested in using this in their practice. If you’d like to do more – more learning, more doing – send us an email, we’d love to support you.
And if you end up using this tool/strategy, let us know – we’d love to hear how it goes!
We kicked off each workshop at BCPS’s Summit on Literacy & Social Emotional Learning with a video from comedian Michael Jr. that illustrates perfectly the relationship between the “why” and the “what” of the work you do.
“When you know your why, your what has more impact because you’re walking in or toward your purpose.”
Master trainer Meg Fairchild brought and nine other inspiring videos from the Resilience Conference she attended in Washington. Thanks, Meg!