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Why I'm Not a Statistic: Comparing ACE Scores & 40 Developmental Assets

Statistically I should be addicted to drugs and alcohol, suffer with depression, be experiencing homelessness and have attempted suicide. I have not; I’ve not even come close to some of these things. As I read about statistics which coincide with a person who has experience childhood trauma and abuse, my mind can hardly graspthe idea that I should have experienced so much challenge, both in my younger age and into adulthood.

I do have many friends who struggle with these issues. I have dear friends, and family who are experiencing homelessness, addiction, depression, mental illness, and other challenges. As I’ve read what my life should look like, and compare it to how good it is, I find myself wondering why. Why me? Why do I not struggle with these issues as my friends do? Why do I have such good fortune? For me the only thing that makes sense is that I had other caring adults in my life when I was a child.

How to Measure Trauma:

There is a study out called the ACE Study. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. You can calculate your ACE score and learn more here.

ACE Scores show the three categories of trauma children face. [1] Each one you experience as a child gives you a point on your ACE score, so scores will range from zero to ten. If you have an ACE score of zero, it means you likely grew up in a healthy loving home. Anything greater than four is considered high.

People with ACE scores higher than a four are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol; experience chronic depression; have thoughts of suicide and other challenges.[2]

“The likelihood of adult suicide attempts increased 30-fold, or 3,000%, with an ACE score of 7 or more.”[3]

My ACE score is an eight. I’ve never attempted suicide.

Adults with an ACE score of six or more have a much shorter life expectancy and are expected to live twenty years less than those with a score of zero. I’m thirty years old. This would mean I have thirty years left, yikes. Statistically I’m thirty-six times more likely to experience homelessness, and have a 460% higher of a chance of developing depression.

When most people meet me they assume I was home-schooled. I am pretty vanilla. I’m generally quite optimistic, have decent coping mechanisms, and although I love me some bacon wrapped bacon, I do not struggle with chronic health issues.

This got me to wonder, what in the world happened? I mean my brothers do not have the same experience as I do. My oldest brother was once incarcerated, and my middle brother has struggled with some mental health issues.

Why did I seem to escape the lasting consequences of my childhood trauma? There is another study about the elements of healthy development. It’s called the 40 Developmental Assets. [4] The 40 Developmental Assets is a list of building blocks to help a kid to grow up “healthy, caring, and responsible.” Of this list, I feel like I grew up with thirty-seven of the forty things in place.

The 40 Developmental Assets are telling of what choices a child will make, their success in school, and contribute to their overall values.

The Search Institute studied what the relation was to the number of assets a child possessed and their likelihood to participate in different activities both positive and negative.

When I realized I have both abnormally high ACE scores and 40 Developmental Assets scores it got me to think this may be the reason why I fall on the other side of these statistics. I didn’t have people come into my life and pluck me out of my challenging situations. I had people walking beside me through it all.

There was an Earthquake in 1996, I was about ten years old. It struck around 9pm: my brother and I were home making dinner all by our self. The following Sunday at church our Sunday school teachers asked us to all share where we were and what we were doing during the earthquake. My teachers seemed to be really concerned about the fact I was cooking for myself, and so late at night. This had been such a norm in our house, I didn’t understand their alarm. We just had an earthquake and they were asking me questions about eating dinner late at night.

The couple who taught my class got a glimpse into my life at this moment. They didn’t rescue me out of it. They just taught my Sunday school class for a couple years. They knew my name, they encouraged me, and they were really kind to me.

I think most of us would consider teaching a Sunday school class a relatively small act. Looking over the list of the 40 Developmental Assets it took lots of people doing lots of faithful small acts in my life. I attended a church where I was well known throughout my childhood and adolescence. I also have an incredible mom, who spent a ton of time loving and encouraging me when I was in her custody. It was very kind people doing relatively simple things and it changed the course of my whole life.

There are times when children need to be removed from their home for their safety and wellbeing. But there are also times when they just need one more adult in their life to help them through.

Over 6,000 children were victims of abuse in the state of Washington in 2014[5]. Abuse and neglect aren’t the only ways a child will be introduced to trauma. The issues we face as a society are overwhelming.

The solutions are not simple; but we can take steps to mitigate the consequences of childhood trauma. I encourage you to find a way to participate in a child or adolescent’s life in a way that makes sense to you. The simple steady encouragement of others has had a lasting impact on my life.

-Dawn Stenberg






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