Child Abuse and Neglect are more common than people realize.

Research shows that untreated childhood trauma can have a lasting effect on one’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Childhood trauma looks like a girl in a black and white photo with her face scratched out.

Often when beginning therapy, many of my clients have a difficult time recognizing how the effects that their early childhood events have on their adult life. I’m talking about childhood trauma. Many see these early events as distant memories from years past. It can be even more difficult for some to identify that these events are extreme and potentially traumatic. It’s easy to become desensitized for someone that was raised in chaos and dysfunction. One learns to tolerate and even expect neglect and abuse from others. Unfortunately, early life abuse and neglect become normalized as a part of their regular family life.

Understanding childhood events in relation to adult pathology is an important part of the therapy process. Making the connection can be painful but necessary on the road to finding peace and healing. Sometimes a simple quiz can help people understand that their early experiences were not healthy and can still be causing current life difficulties.

What is the ACE Assessment?

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Assessment is a tool designed to identify exposure to traumatic events before the age of 18. It consists of 10 questions that cover areas of trauma. The higher the ACE score, the greater likelihood that a person will experience more difficulties in adulthood.

The ACE assessment was developed by CDC-Kaiser Permanente between 1995 to 1997. Their research found that children exposed to emotional, physical, sexual abuse and other family dysfunction often have a multitude of adult life difficulties, including higher physical and mental health risks.

Are you unsure if the events in your childhood were extreme? Take the free online version of the ACE assessment below:

(TW: Child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault)

ACE Assessment


Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?


Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?


Did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?


Did you often or very often feel that… No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?


Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?


Were your parents ever separated or divorced?


Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?


Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?


Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?


Did a household member go to prison?

Your ACE score is the total number of “yes” responses.

The Impact of Childhood Trauma

According to the Center for Disease Control, early childhood trauma can cause the following complications in adulthood:

  • Mental Health: Depression, anxiety, sucicide, PTSD
  • Injury: Traumatuc brain injury, fractures, burns
  • Maternal Health: Unintented pregnacy, pregnancy complications, fetal death
  • Infecticious Disease: HIV, STIs
  • Chronic Disease: Cancer, diabetes
  • Risky behavior: Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Opportunitues: Education, occupation, income
According to the CDC, about 61% of adults surveyed reported that they had experienced at least one type of ACE"

Help for High ACEs

Thankfully humans are resilient and have the ability to learn, heal and evolve. And with the right resources, support, and treatment, people can take their lives back from the effects of traumatic events. There has never been so much support and resources available to help in the healing process. 

Facing childhood abuse and neglect can be very emotionally upheaving. It’s important to find a qualified therapist to help you understand the individual ways you were affected by early adverse events. 

Listed below are a few of the possible treatments for healing childhood trauma:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Traditional Talk Therapy
  • EMDR Therapy
  • Trauma Informed Therapy

If you have a high ACE score, remember you are more than what happened to you. You have the ability and power inside of you to heal the wounds of childhood trauma. It wasn’t your fault. As a child, you had no control over your situation. As a child, you were powerless and dependent on the adults in your life to keep you safe. Things are different now. Now you have power and options that can change your life for the better. Find the support you need and cultivate the peace you have always deserved.

National Mental Health Support Line: 
1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The Body Keeps Score

Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

By Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD

This classic book is a must-read for those interested in learning more about the deep effects of traumatic experiences. Not just limited to childhood events, this book covers adverse events in adulthood, like veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual assault. Please be aware that this book is very detailed and can be triggering. We recommend processing your personal trauma story with a professional therapist.

Preventing ACEs

Content source: National Center for Injury Prevention and ControlDivision of Violence Prevention, The Center for Disease Control

Childhood trauma poster, showing black and white photo of a girl with her face scratched out. This poster is good for sharing on Pinterest.

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