Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

I have learned about several aspects in this presentation about ACEs as it applies to children. According to Harris (2014), adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) incorporate sexual, emotional, or physical exploitation, emotional or physical negligence, substance dependence, parent mental disorders, parental divorce or separation, parental incarceration, and domestic violence. These are traumatic events that significantly affect the brains of children as they develop and their well-being in general. Traumatic events damage the physical brain of children. They are also directly correlated to adverse health and psychological issues in their adult years.

Children have a developing system in their brain that assists them in recognizing and responding to danger. The amygdala and other brain structures send out hormones that make their bodies ready for a fight, flight, or freeze response (Navalta, McGee & Underwood, 2018). When the danger is over, their bodies return to baseline and they relax. However, in children who experience repeated trauma, those hormones never go back to baseline. Their bodies remain ready for the fight, flight, or freeze response at all times. As a result, they affect the way their brains develop by either over-stimulation or under depending on which part of the brain you are examining.

Research has found that adults who experienced childhood trauma have smaller hippocampal and amygdala volumes, meaning they are too small. The only answer can be that the hormones they secreted as children did not allow them to form naturally. Because of this, they are likely to have lower intelligence and develop psychological disorders. Children who have experienced ACEs often have problems dealing with emotions. They often lash out in anger, respond to stress inappropriately, suffer depression, anxiety, and panic disorders. This unfolds across their lifespan making those experiencing high levels of trauma more susceptible to heart disease and lung cancer (Harris, 2014).

The relationship between mirror neuron function and ACEs in processing trauma is complex. Mirror neurons have been studied mainly in monkeys. These are neurons that fire both when an individual act and when they observe someone else carrying it out. There is one study by Ivey, Ivey & Zalaquett (2013), that involves children experiencing ACE’S. This study showed that humans do indeed have mirror neurons, though, as the researchers could only study the brain areas exposed for surgery, they could not conclude their distribution in the brain. However, there are a lot of ideas that range from their being responsible for motor imitation and observational learning to their being involved in empathy and ‘theory of mind’. There have never been, and, without big advances in technology are unlikely to be, studies of individual neurons in children experiencing ACEs; so, one cannot say that their mirror neuron systems are unimpaired. But children who have experienced ACEs in their life appear to be unimpaired in motor imitation.















Harris, N. (2014, September). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. TEDxTalks. Retrieved from

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2013). Intentional interviewing and counseling: Facilitating client development in a multicultural society (First Ed). Boston: Cengage Learning.

Navalta, C. P., McGee, L., & Underwood, J. (2018). Adverse childhood experiences, brain development, and mental health: A call for neurocounseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling40(3), 266-278.


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