Premature death. Alcoholism. Heart disease. Depression. These are just some of the reasons childhood trauma matters.

Students that have experienced traumatic events are more likely to choose maladaptive ways of coping with memories and feelings they encounter as a result of the trauma. Food, alcohol, drugs, smoking and sex are all unhealthy things they may turn to in order to try and escape overwhelming emotions. These can lead to the adoption of risky and damaging behaviors which set the stage for disease, social problems and premature death.

Starting in 1998 an ongoing study was conducted called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) to measure the impact of childhood trauma on adults’ current health. Each participant was given an ACE score based on how many traumas they were exposed to as children. Among those measured were abuse, neglect, parent incarceration, parental separation or divorce, household substance abuse or mental illness. Data was also taken on the patients’ health condition and behaviors and physical exams were conducted. As the number of ACEs (or traumas) an individual has increases so does their risk of a myriad of health problems including early death, drug use, suicide attempts, early sexual activity, heart disease, depression, liver disease, smoking and STDs.

Because 1 out of every 4 children at school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can impact their learning and/or behavior you may be aware of its significance in your classroom. Students’ focus, reaction to change, attendance, organization and problem solving are some areas that could be influenced by trauma. While this is incredibly important to be aware of now it is also vital to be conscious of the long term effects trauma can have on our students and us.

Heather Opp – Tulsa Public Schools