What are ACEs?
ACEs are adverse childhood experiences. They are traumatic moments or series of events in a child’s life that have a strong negative effect on their development. ACEs can fall under one category or a combination of these categories: household dysfunction, abuse, and neglect. Learning to be trauma-informed and provide trauma-informed care to students who need it can help them grow in positive ways.
It’s important to not let a student’s ACE score define how you think of them or how they think of themselves. It is easy to start thinking in a deficit mindset when you see the score and realize the implications of that number. The statistics go beyond grades. A person’s ACE score also correlates to their likelihood of developing alcoholism, heart disease, and depression.
Remember that these statistics don’t seal your students’ futures. Teachers are not therapists and are not responsible or qualified to psychoanalyze their students or provide therapeutic services. However, teachers can use trauma-informed care to be a safe person for students and prevent the above statistics. Having someone to consistently rely on for guidance may help students struggling with ACEs.
Signs of Trauma
- Symptoms of trauma can look like symptoms of ADHD: difficulty with concentration, organization, and personal agency.
- Overreactions to everyday challenges in comparison to other students.
- Appearing very sad or having frequent headaches or stomach aches.
- Falling behind or having aggressive outbursts in class.
- Keep in mind that side effects of trauma can look different for different students.
What Teachers Can Do
- Take care of yourself. Every teacher understands how easy it is to burnout. Try to avoid this as best as you can, try to find ways of coping that work for you. If you feel yourself breaking down, reach out to others to let them know your situation and keep them updated.
- Stay calm and don’t take things personally. Students are probably not having a trauma response because of something you did. It’s likely due to something that is completely unrelated to anything that you’ve done. It’s important that you stay calm to de-escalate a situation.
- Avoid a deficit mindset. It can be easy to view students with trauma as “broken” people that we can fix in some way, but this puts us in a deficit mindset and that doesn’t help the student. Students with trauma are just as capable as students without it.
- Don’t give up. It will be hard to watch students struggle with trauma, and to see your efforts to help them fail. I think that if you are consistently showing that you are on their side, that you are a stable adult they can come to for help, that is the best thing you can do for these students.