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Screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Overview

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are things that happen before adulthood that can cause trauma. Or they're things that make a child feel like their home isn't safe or stable. Some examples of ACEs include violence, neglect, abuse, and family mental health or substance use problems.

ACEs screening is a quick way for a doctor to learn whether a patient has had traumatic or stressful childhood experiences.

Why screening is done

Stress from ACEs can affect a person's health. This is true during childhood and into adulthood. When doctors know what types of childhood stress a person has had, they can better help with the effects of that stress.

For example, knowing about a child's ACEs can help a doctor find the right ways to help with things like sleep or behavior issues. And knowing about ACEs in an adult can help a doctor understand that person's risk for certain health issues. That can help a doctor choose the right resources to share.

ACEs are common. When doctors know about them, they can better support you and your family.

How screening is done

In most cases, ACEs screening is done using a form. You might fill out the form before or at the start of a doctor visit.

The form has a list of questions about traumatic or stressful childhood experiences. The questions will ask about things like:

  • Parent or caregiver separation or divorce.
  • Household members with mental health or substance use problems.
  • Abuse.

You'll answer "yes" or "no" to each question on the form. At the end of the form, you might be asked to count up the number of questions you answered "yes" to.

What happens next

Your doctor will talk with you about your answers. They may ask for more details about your "yes" answers.

Some people might feel nervous about talking with a doctor about ACEs. That could be because the topics are sensitive. Or maybe they're worried about being judged. But remember, your doctor wants to help and support you, not judge you.

When your doctor knows about ACEs, they may tell you about ways you can reduce the effect of those ACEs now. They may also share resources to help you and your family.

Credits

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
John Pope MD - Pediatrics

 
 

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