What is Trauma and Adversity

Adverse childhood experiences, such as maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence, and parental substance use are traumatic or stressful events that lower an individual’s capacity to cope or adapt to future stressful events.

Childhood exposure to adverse experiences occurs at alarming rates in the United States. It is estimated that before turning 18 years old, two-thirds of all youth will experience one or more adverse childhood experience.

For many, exposure to trauma or adversity is chronic, repetitive or ongoing and comes from multiple sources– for example, experiencing abuse while also living in poverty.  The cumulative impact of such ongoing exposure to trauma in the absence of supportive relationships can result in prolonged activation of stress response systems known as toxic stress.  Toxic stress can have detrimental effects on learning, behavior, and health well into adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and wellbeing:

Image with three green circles; first labeled abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse; second, neglect, emotional neglect, physical neglect; third household challenges, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, parental separation/divorce, incarcerated parent; bottom labeled people with 6+ ACEs can die 20 years earlier than those who have none, and 1/8 of the population have more than 4 ACEs, with eight figures holding hands, and www.70-30.org.uk 7030Campain with logo of heart below
Image labeled 4 or more ACEs with six areas with corresponding icons; lungs, 3X the levels of lung disease and adult smoking; rope, 14X the number of suicide attempts; person rained on, 4.5X more likely to develop depression; needle,11X the level of intravenous drug abuse; persons kissing, 4X as likely to have begun intercourse by age 15; liver, 2X the level of liver disease


"Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today" -Dr. Robert Block, the former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Image of health pyramid, with lifespan arrow pointing up in red; bottom to top, adverse childhood experiences (red), disrupted neurodevelopment (orange), social, emotional and cognitive impairment (yellow), adoption of health-risk behaviors (green), disease, disability, social problems (blue), early death (light blue); 67% of the population have at least 1 ACE (red) at right