Tag Archives: Toxic Stress

Healing Student Trauma: Film Debut, Orange County

paper-tigers-kelsey-movie-creditsSave the date Oct. 14 in Orange County, CA!  It’s the OC’s first screening of James Redford’s “Paper Tigers,” a film on how Lincoln Alternative High heals traumatized students with new relationships.  Such “Trauma-Informed Care” has begun in schools, medical settings, judiciary and social services nationally, with top results. It can help any organization.

Watch the two-minute trailer now: PaperTigersMovie.com

From rough areas, Lincoln High’s students were headed for the “School to Prison Pipeline.”  Then Principal Jim Sporleder took this Walla Walla WA school run by gangs, with 789 suspensions and 50 expulsions a year, and turned it around.  Suspensions fell 85-90%, expulsions fell 30-50%, and attendance, GPAs, and state exam scores rose. Graduation rates rose five-fold. Students got into college with $30K in scholarships. It was so dramatic that Robert Redford’s son James Redford made this film.

On Sept. 19, Mr.  Sporleder and my other friends at ACEsConnection spoke on this work at the White House in Washington. The White House Fact Sheet features ACEsConnection and our 10,000-person organization in its third bullet under “Online Community Support for Educators.”

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“Paper Tigers” Film Screening, Friday, October 14, 7 pm
Center For Spiritual Living, 1201 Puerta Del Sol, San Clemente CA 92673
– A documentary by James Redford, Director –

– Hundreds of screenings already organized nationally –
Admission free. To ensure seats, click “Register” button here.
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How did Principal Sporleder do it?   “Let’s stop asking kids ‘What’s wrong with you?’   Sporleder told his staff — and start asking ‘What happened to you?’  Then, let’s be quiet and listen with compassion.”

If a student used the “F” bomb, instead of detention they saw the principal. “What bad stuff happened that you’re so upset?” Jim would ask. “My Dad left for Iraq, again!” or “Mom’s drunk so no breakfast,” they’d say. They’d pour out their hearts until Jim reached them emotionally and they felt heard. As they could feel and verbalize emotions, they acted out less.

Leveraging the ACE Study

How did Jim Sporleder learn to do all this?  It began when he found out about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.  The ACE Study revealed that some 50% of Americans suffer childhood trauma, and that it can flood students’ brains with toxic stress to where they can’t learn.

He also found a wealth of resources on ACEsConnection.com, the social network site for the ACE Study just cited by the White House this week.

Then Jim, the school staff and the students all studied the ACE Study together. Everyone saw that the students weren’t freaks, but instead their behavior was their bodies’ natural reaction to horrible experiences over years.  Student self-respect grew.  As Robin Williams told Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYa6gbDcx18

The ACE Study and Trauma-Informed Care show that one caring, dependable adult, a teacher or other mentor, can give a kid the relationship they need to heal. Once adults “got them,” the students turned around.

–ACE Study Video by Dr. Vincent Felitti, MD, co-study director: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQwJCWPG478
–Full story on Lincoln High:  https://acestoohigh.com/2012/04/23/lincoln-high-school-in-walla-walla-wa-tries-new-approach-to-school-discipline-expulsions-drop-85
–Trauma-Informed Care  http://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions

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Kathy’s blogs explore the journey of recovery from childhood trauma by learning about Adult Attachment Disorder in teens and adults, Adult Attachment Theory, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.
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Comments are encouraged, with the usual exceptions; rants, political speeches, off-color language, etc. are unlikely to post.  Starting 8-22-16, software will limit comments to 1030 characters (2 long paragraphs) for a while, until we get new software to take longer comments again.

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Can School Heal Kids?

Can School Heal Children in Pain? – Guest Blog by “Paper Tigers” Director James Redford, original date June 3 (photo courtesy of Mr. Redford).

aredfordAfter learning about the overwhelming effects of childhood trauma, I decided to make a film about a school that’s adopted a “trauma-informed” lens.

Documentaries are no walk in the park. They take a lot of time and money; they have a way of making a mockery out of your narrative plans…

Why bother? It’s a good question. For me, I have one simple bar that all my films must clear: an “oh my God!” moment. If a story does not elicit that reaction from deep within my bones, I don’t do it. I count on that sense of awe, concern, wonder, and alarm to carry me through the long haul of making the film…

After three years of hard work and uphill battles, my latest documentary film, Paper Tigers, premiered last week [May 28] at the Seattle International Film Festival. And yet it seems like yesterday that I first encountered the explosive research that linked poor health to childhood trauma.

I didn’t know that adverse childhood experiences — like assault, emotional abuse, observing domestic violence — could fundamentally alter a child’s body and brain. These kids are at risk for every single major disease, including (but not limited to) cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. That risk doesn’t include the increased likelihood of “self-soothing behaviors” like smoking, drinking, eating too much food, doing too many drugs, having too much sex.

Put that all together and you have the underpinnings for some of the greatest societal challenges we face. It quickly became clear that social support systems require a deeper understanding of adverse childhood experiences….

The good news is that there are schools, clinics, courts, and communities that are starting to adopt a “trauma-informed” lens.

Click to Read More…

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Kathy’s blogs and Guest Blogs explore the journey of recovery from childhood trauma by learning about Adult Attachment Disorder in teens and adults, Adult Attachment Theory, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

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‘Paper Tigers’ Film: ACE Trauma Can Be Healed

“Resilience practices overcome students’ ACEs in trauma-informed high school, say the data” — Guest Blog by Jane Stevens, Founder of ACEsConnection.com

Paper Tigers Cast Crew Seattle Premier 5-28-15Three years ago, the story about how Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tried a new approach to school discipline and saw suspensions drop 85% struck a nerve. It went viral – twice — with more than 700,000 page views. Paper Tigers, a documentary that filmmaker James Redford did about the school, premiered last Thursday night [May 28] to a sold-out crowd at the Seattle International Film Festival. Hundreds of communities around the country are clamoring for screenings. [Cast and crew of Paper Tigers after Seattle screening; photo by Jane Stevens]

After four years of implementing the new approach, Lincoln’s results were even more astounding: suspensions dropped 90%, there were no expulsions, and kids grades, test scores and graduation rates surged.

But many educators aren’t convinced. They ask: Can the teachers and staff at Lincoln explain what they did differently? Did it really help the kids who had the most problems – the most adverse experiences? Or is what happened at Lincoln just a fluke? Can it be replicated in other schools?

Last year, Dr. Dario Longhi, a sociology researcher with long experience in measuring the effects of resilience-building practices in communities, set about answering those questions.

The results? Yes. Yes. No. And yes.

In 2010, Jim Sporleder, then-principal of Lincoln High, learned about the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and the neurobiology of toxic stress at a workshop in Spokane, WA. The ACE Study showed a link between 10 types of childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence…

Here’s what Sporleder learned:

Severe and chronic trauma (such as living with an alcoholic parent, or watching in terror as your mom gets beat up) causes toxic stress in kids. Toxic stress damages kid’s brains. When trauma launches kids into flight, fight or fright mode, they cannot learn. It is physiologically impossible.

They can also act out (fight) or withdraw (flight or fright) in school; they often have trouble trusting adults or getting along with their peers. They start coping with anxiety, depression, anger and frustration by drinking or doing other drugs, having dangerous sex, over-eating, engaging in violence or thrill sports, and even over-achieving.

Sporleder said he realized that he’d been doing “everything wrong” in disciplining kids, and decided to turn Lincoln High into a trauma-informed school.

With the help of Natalie Turner, assistant director of the Washington State University Area Health Education Center in Spokane, WA, Sporleder and his staff implemented three basic changes that essentially shifted their approach to student behavior from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

Click to Read More…

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Kathy’s blogs and Guest Blogs explore the journey of recovery from childhood trauma by learning about Adult Attachment Disorder in teens and adults, Adult Attachment Theory, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

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California ACEs Summit

CA ACEs Summit Nov.2014At California’s first ACEs summit November 5-7, “Children Can Thrive,” over 200 health professionals, policy leaders and advocates gathered in San Francisco. They created a national model for a statewide dialogue on the biggest public health problem facing California today: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  They focused on programs in health, education, juvenile justice and child welfare at the local and state levels, and how national policies can support those efforts.

Also exciting, Google.org announced a $3 million grant November 3 to the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW), the clinic started by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, organizer of the CA ACEs Summit.  The grant is specifically aimed to get enough scientific documentation that childhood trauma causes adult onset diseases, to actually make toxic stress a diagnosis code billable for insurance: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Google-gives-3-million-to-Nadine-Burke-Harris-5865372.php

Dr. Harris’ clinic “focuses on what is known as adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress — issues like neglect, abuse, exposure to violence and household dysfunction that can damage a child’s developing brain and body.  Burke Harris said that 1 in 10 of the children she sees has experienced not just one of those traumas, but four or more,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported November 3. “Even though Burke Harris’ work has been lauded by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — who featured the doctor in a video for her Too Small to Fail philanthropic campaign last year — it has been a challenge raising enough money….

“/’This grant is built on science,’ said Google’s Justin Steele. “If they prove it works in Bayview, we’d love to see it scale up across the country.’  …Burke Harris said the grant will enable her team to develop a clinical protocol to address toxic stress. That will be key to making the issue into something that insurance companies can understand — and cover. Now, insurers don’t.”

Summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences
by Jane Stevens and Staff of ACEsConnection.com
ACEs are traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which can result in toxic stress and have a profound effect on a child’s developing brain and body. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of Californians have reported at least one adverse childhood experience.The Center for Youth Wellness videoed the main conference sessions November 5-7, and will post those videos, including a presentation about ACEs by Burke Harris, a conversation between her and Dr. Vincent Felitti, one of the co-founders of the ACE Study, and Jamie Redford showing the trailer from  “Paper Tigers”, a documentary about Lincoln High, a trauma-informed school in Walla Walla, WA.

ACASkids-1The ACEs Connection Network team participated and reported on the breakout sessions, which weren’t videoed. On the first day, Elizabeth Prewitt covered health (CA ACEs Summit: Overall health depends on much more than healthcare, pediatricians and other public health specialists agree).

Joanna Weill covered juvenile justice (CA ACEs Summit: Juvenile Justice Panel), and the discussion that occurred during the panel that covered ACEs from a national perspective.

In that session, Sylvia Paull was inspired by Esta Soler, founder of Futures Without Violence, and, in the education panel, by the pioneers transforming cultures of public schools from punishment to compassion. Elizabeth Prewitt covered the state panel (CA ACEs Summit: Building the ACEs movement in 3 states).

Alicia St. Andrews of ACEsConnection.com shares reports on the panel at the CA ACEs Summit on how local groups are getting organized to stop the trauma and spread compassion and healing instead, here:  CA ACEs Summit Building the Foundation to Help Children Thrive: Strategies to address the impact of ACEs
ACEs 101 FAQs – What are ACEs?
by Jane Stevens, founder, ACEsConnection.com

ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence.   Read more: http://www.acesconnection.com/blog/aces-101-faqs

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Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

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Pediatricians Screen for Child Trauma

To prevent childhood trauma, pediatricians screen children and their parents…and sometimes, just parents…for childhood trauma”
guest blog by Jane Ellen Stevens, Editor, ACEsTooHigh.com and ACEsConnection.com

Tabitha Lawson & kidsWhen parents bring their four-month-olds to a well-baby checkup at the Children’s Clinic in Portland, OR, Drs. Teri Petersen, R.J. Gillespie and their 15 other partners ask the parents about their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).  [Tabitha Lawson of Portland, OR with her two children, who greatly benefited from the new program; more below]

When parents bring a child who’s bouncing off the walls and having nightmares to the Bayview Child Health Center in San Francisco, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris doesn’t ask: “What’s wrong with this child?” Instead, she asks, “What happened to this child?” and calculates the child’s ACE score.

In rural northern Michigan, a teacher tells a parent that her “problem” child has ADHD and needs drugs. The parent brings the child to see Dr. Tina Marie Hahn, who experienced more childhood trauma than most people. Instead of writing a prescription, Hahn has a heart-to-heart conversation with the parent and the child about what’s happening in their lives that might be leading to the behavior, and figures out the child’s ACE score.

What’s an ACE score? Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood trauma.

Why is it important? Because childhood trauma can cause the adult onset of chronic disease (including cancer, heart disease and diabetes), mental illness, violence, becoming a victim of violence, divorce, broken bones, obesity, teen and unwanted pregnancies, and work absences.

The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) measured 10 types of childhood adversity: sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and physical and emotional neglect; and five types of family dysfunction – witnessing a mother being abused, a household member who’s an alcoholic or drug user, who’s been imprisoned, or diagnosed with mental illness, or loss of a parent through separation or divorce.  (There are, of course, other types of trauma, but those were not measured in this study. Other ACE surveys are beginning to include other types of trauma.)

Each type of trauma — not the number of incidents of each trauma — was given an ACE score of 1. So, a person who has been emotionally abused, physically neglected and grew up with an alcoholic father who beat up his wife would have an ACE score of 4.

The ACE Study found that childhood trauma was very common — two-thirds of the 17,000 mostly white, middle-class, college-educated participants (all had jobs and great health care because they were members of Kaiser Permanene) experienced at least one type of severe childhood trauma. Most had suffered two or more.

The more types of childhood trauma a person has, the higher the risk of medical, mental and social problems as an adult (Got Your ACE Score?). Compared with people who have zero ACEs, people with an ACEs score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers, 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, seven times more likely to be alcoholic, and 10 times more likely to inject street drugs. Compared to people with zero ACEs, people with an ACE score of 6 have a shorter lifespan – by 20 years.

Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., have done their own ACE surveys, with similar results.

The ACE Study is part of a perfect storm of research emerging over the last 20 years that is revolutionizing our understanding of human development. Brain research shows how the toxic stress of trauma damages the structure and function of children’s brains, which can explain their hyperactivity, inattentiveness, angry outbursts and other behavior. This affects their ability to learn in school, and leads them to use drugs, alcohol, thrill sports, food and/or work as coping mechanisms.

Biomedical researchers discovered that toxic stress experienced as a child can linger in the body to cause chronic inflammation as an adult, resulting in heart and auto-immune diseases, such as arthritis. And epigenetic research shows that the social and emotional environment can turn genes on and off, and childhood trauma can be passed from parent to child to grandchild.

Let’s put this another way: A huge chunk of the billions upon billions of dollars that Americans spend on health care, emergency services, social services and criminal justice boils down to what happens – or doesn’t happen — to children in their families and communities.

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The pediatricians mentioned in this article know that, and they also know that if they intervene early enough to stop or prevent childhood trauma by building resilience factors in children and families, children won’t suffer, and they’ll have happier, healthier lives as adults.

Pediatricians aren’t just about sore throats and ear infections anymore, says Gillespie. “This is a culture shift. We’re here to support families.”

The profession is moving away from looking solely at healing a child, to healing a family and a community. For the last several years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been helping pediatricians create medical homes where all needs of children and their families are met, including “specialty care, educational services, out-of-home care, family support, and other public and private community services that are important for the overall health of the child and family.”

Two years ago, the AAP encouraged pediatricians to also address adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress in early childhood. Last month, AAP President Dr. James Perrin launched a new initiative, the Center on Healthy Resilient Children, to “coordinate the academy’s response to the issue of adverse childhood experiences, the promotion of healthy development, and the prevention of toxic stress.”

Feeling overwhelmed…and someone to turn to

When Tabitha Lawson brought her four-month-old son in to the Children’s Clinic in Portland, OR, they both were having a hard time. Unlike her 6-year-old daughter, he wasn’t an easy baby. He had colic, and Tabitha and her husband were under stress from his long bouts of crying.

“I was feeling overwhelmed,” she recalls. “I had no breaks. I work full time. From my job to my house is five minutes, where I’d go into my other life mode, and every evening, the scream-outs.”

She filled out a survey with 10 questions about her adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)…  click here to READ MORE…

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