Updated: Jun 22, 2021
About ACEs and Trauma-Informed Practices
Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, are traumatic experiences that occur during childhood, ranging from parental divorce to domestic and sexual violence. ACEs have an extremely negative impact on children in the moment, affecting their ability to learn, and, according to the 1998 Kaiser Permanente and U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention ACE Study, the chronic stress they cause can even lead to long-term health issues.
ACEs are measured with a point system by adding up the number of adversities a child has experienced. ACE scores of 0/1 are low, while 4+ are high and mean students are at risk for serious health and behavioral consequences.
While an increased knowledge of ACEs and their negative consequences is crucial, “trauma-informed education is not solely concerned with students’ ACE score… Trauma-informed education includes examining the influence and impact on students in our schools of factors such as racism (explicit, implicit, and systematic; and microaggressions) as well as poverty, peer victimization, community violence, and bullying,” says Mathew Portell in “Understanding Trauma-Informed Education.”
Ways to Support Students Using Trauma-Informed Educational Practices
Look at more than just the behavior
Some students with high levels of trauma act out in unexpected or inappropriate ways. Be calm, kind, and curious. Dig deeper to understand why the behavior is happening and how you can help.
Meet basic life needs
Students experiencing trauma may need basic life needs met before they can be successful in your classroom. Know the resources in your school and community so you can refer students for supports and services. Follow through with the student to make sure they are getting what they need.
Make sure you have a safe space
Safe spaces start by having strong relationships with students. Ensure you can have honest conversations about what is bothering them. Try and connect beyond academics so students feel they are more than just a student. Find their passions and interests and support them in their learning.
Follow rituals and routines
For students who have faced significant trauma, deviation from the schedule and highly unpredictable actions can cause adverse and unexpected reactions. Students with high ACE scores have often stated they feel out of control. Helping them be regulated with consistent rituals and routines is a major step in supporting students with trauma.
Build core skills
Students who have experienced toxic stress may need additional support in building executive function skills, including how to make a plan, cope with stress, adjust, focus, and be more self-aware and flexible.
See the positive
Try and push positive thinking. Often with high levels of trauma, students need to practice positive thinking. Use mental pictures, belly breaths, meditation, and other tactics to support students in changing how they view a situation. For example, before a big test, students can picture being successful, can use big belly breaths to calm nerves, and can ensure they have a plan to take breaks if needed.
Teach students how to communicate. Have students practice talking about how they are feeling and what they need. Support them by helping them understand how to ask to take a break and express when they are being hurt. Open yourself to understanding how they learn and what they need to be successful. And, understand it is extremely hard to have one teacher try and do it alone. Trauma-informed educational practices should be a team effort and a school-wide initiative.
Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.