Adverse Early Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Exp

Adverse Early Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are associated with family problems and the transfer of mental health concerns from one generation to another. ACEs are also   These include elevated levels of psychological stress among family members, both children and adults, and mental health concerns such as substance abuse problems, and their transition from one generation to another.

Family Problems

The Intergenerational Cycle of Mental Health Concerns

Genetics alone, or what we view as an inherited predisposition for specific mental health concerns does not account fully for the transition of mental problems from one generation to another. Epigenetic research shows that adverse early childhood experiences are also associated with mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and addiction. This research shows that adverse childhood experiences can shape how our  genetic potential is expressed, or conversely, suppressed or turned off.  Our  psycho-social experiences, either adverse or positive, modify our genes, and hence the genetic predispositions we pass onto subsequent generations.

Gene Mate is an expert on addiction and how it arises. In his view, there is no nature versus nurture argument as it applies to addiction. It is not one or the other-neither a nature or nurture issue. He relies on epigenetics, what he described as a new  and rapidly growing science, to explain the origins of addiction. Epigenetics also helps  explain the roots of other mental health concerns, and their inter-generational transmission from one generation to another.

Essentially, the study of epigenetics shows how our genes interact with our social environments, in multiple and complex ways, and how this interaction modifies our genetic predispositions.  This field of study shows that our early social experiences have a potent effect on gene expression, including which genes are expressed or turned on, and also which genes are suppressed or turned off. This is a process that influences our behaviors throughout our lifespans. It is also a process that shapes the genetic package that we pass on to our offspring, and that they in turn will pass on to others. Which in turn will be shaped by the psych-social environments future generations will experience.  

The nature of our early social environments, including the perinatal and post natal periods, determine our risks for developing a psychological disorder or concern. This is the case, regardless of any genetic predisposition we may possess, for any type of mental health disorder.  Favorable psychological environments can reduce or turn off genetic risks for developing a mental health problem. Whereas the opposite is the case for those who endure less favorable childhood conditions. 

What Are Adverse Early Childhood Experiences?

Dr. O'Connor's focus on family problems centers on this inter-generational cycle of mental health concerns, and the role that Adverse Early Childhood Experiences (ACEs) play in the development of mental health concerns.  Family problems frequently lie at the root of a range of psychological disorders, and mental health concerns. Conversely favorable family conditions play a protective role and aid in the prevention of mental health concerns.

So what are Adverse Early Childhood Experiences and how do they increase the risks for mental health concerns in young people and the adults they become?

Adverse Early Childhood Experiences are potentially traumatic events that can occur in childhood. These include psycho-social concerns that can undermine the child's sense of safety, stability and bonding such as growing up in a home with substance abuse problems, mental health problems, and instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison. Or abuse or neglect, or witnessing violence in the home or community.

Adverse Early Childhood Expereinces contribute to toxic stress (chronic, ongoing negative stressors) that can result in changes to the child's physiological baseline state, and contribute to symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Adverse Early Childhood Experiences are also associated with what we have come to describe as complex or developmental trauma.

High levels of toxic stress can have detrimental effects on the developing brain, which places children who experience such stressors at risk for numerous psychological concerns. These  include social, emotional and behavioral problems, as well as cognitive, learning and academic difficulties. These children are also at risk of developing problems with attention, as well as emotional and behavioral regulation. The more ACE's the child experiences the greater their risk for developing serious psychological concerns. Without help the problems they show as children will remain with them as adults, and move forward to infect future generations of children.

To learn about  the Inter-generational cycle of depression, click here.

Promoting Positive Outcomes

Dr. O'Connor's psychological  testing  services, including her psychological assessments, her school neuropsychological evaluations, and her trauma assessments, help explore the psychological affects of family  problems in  a young person. They also lead to interventions to help address these concerns, and help build psychological resilience in the young person.

Dr. O'Connor has developed a series of books and other resources to help promote positive psychological outcomes in children, adolescents, young adults and their families. Her goal is to increase understanding of family problems, and provide information to help break the inter-generational cycle of mental health problems.

She is in the process of putting together an online store, and further developing her products.  In the meantime, you can click on the following link to access her book - I Can Be Me - A Helping Book for Children of Alcoholic Parents.

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