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ACEs Coalition

Working toward a resilient community that prevents and reduces the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Guelph and Wellington County. 

What are ACEs

Experiences in childhood shape who we are and set the stage for who we will become.  

Many people experience stressful or traumatic events while growing up. Researchers use the term adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to describe types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction that happen before the age of 18. ACEs can increase the risk of negative health behaviours and outcomes that can develop later in life.2

However, with the right support people can overcome the risks and thrive.

The ACEs Coalition of Guelph & Wellington aims to prevent and reduce the effects of ACEs in our communities by building resilience at the individual, family, and community level.

According to a local study of adults in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph1

of respondents had at least one ACE
of respondents had four or more

According to a local study of adults in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph1

of respondents had at least one ACE
of respondents had four or more

ACEs impact Health and Wellbeing

ACEs are common and universal 2,11

ACEs can affect anyone- regardless of their gender, level of education, occupation, income, neighbourhood, and culture.

Link between ACEs and adult onset chronic disease2,12

ACEs are linked to several major chronic illness, including the top three leading causes of death in Canada: cancers, heart disease, and stroke.

The level of exposure matters2

The more ACEs an individual experiences, the more likely they are to experience the associated impacts later in life.

Compared to those who report no ACEs, people with 4+ ACEs are:2

The Ten Categories of ACEs

ACEs don’t usually happen in isolation. A landmark study conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente researched various types of ACEs:


Physical Abuse

Emotional Abuse

Sexual Abuse


Physical Neglect

Emotional Neglect

Household Dysfunction

Household member with a mental Illness

Mother treated violently (intimate partner violence)

Parental separation or divorce

Incarcerated household member

Substance abuse by a household member

ACEs, Genes &
Brain Development

The way a brain grows is determined by the interaction between our genes and experiences. The neural connections that make up the structure of our brains are formed on an ongoing basis, beginning before birth and continuing into adulthood. In the first few years of life, children experience a period of intense brain development that provides a foundation for the way their brain develops for the rest of their life.3,4

When children have positive experiences and interactions with others, their brains grow in a way that prepares them for lifelong physical, mental, and social well-being.
How Brains Are Built

Impacts of Toxic Stress

Experiencing some stress and learning to cope with it is necessary for healthy child development. Ideally, social supports help to reduce the negative impacts of stress. However, without support adverse experiences in early life can cause toxic stress. This toxic stress releases cortisol and other chemicals in the brain which can lead to increased reactivity to future stressors. This exposure can have a ‘wear and tear’ effect on their brain development.5

Human Brain
Social Impacts6
  • Living in fight-or-flight mode
  • Short attention span
  • Struggles with learning
  • Responding to the world as a constant danger
  • Distrust of adults
  • Inability to develop healthy relationships
  • Feelings of failure
  • Despair
  • Shame
  • Frustration
Physiological Impacts

Prolonged exposure to toxic stress in childhood without the presence of a nurturing adult can lead to physiological changes in the brain.

Impaired Sensory Processing

In children who experience constant trauma, the thalamus, responsible for assessing incoming sensory information, becomes overwhelmed and stops processing properly. It can shut down the prefrontal cortex, resulting in the impairment of rational thinking.7,8

Miscalibrated Threat and Danger Response

Frequent trauma can damage the amygdala, causing it to remain overactive and on alert.  Conversely, the amygdala can shut down in an effort to protect the child from intolerable feelings, resulting in long-lasting feelings of emotional numbness.7,8

Slowed Brain Activity

When children experience extreme neglect, the metabolism and electrical activity of the brain slows. This leads to smaller ranges of words, fewer social interactions, and poor connections between areas of the brain necessary for processing complex information.9,10

Inhibited Long-term Memory Storage

The brain’s chemical response to severe trauma may inhibit brain capacity.7,8

Reducing the Impacts of ACEs

Nurturing, stable relationships with adults can help children develop capacities to cope with the effects of early-life stress and adversity. Stable relationships with a parent, caregiver, or other adult can help limit the effects of ACEs on the brain.


For more about limiting the effects of ACES

Read More

1 Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (2019). Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Childhood Experience Study (report in progress). Guelph, ON.  

2 Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., … & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American journal of preventive medicine, 56(6), 774-786.

3 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from here

4 Ludy-Dobson, C.R. & Perry, B.D. (2010). Chapter 3: The Role of Healthy Relational Interactions in Buffering the Impact of Childhood Trauma. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from here

5 Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2017). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No.3. Retrieved February 21, 2018 from  here

6 Strong Communities Raise Strong Kids. (2011). Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Impetus for Change [PPT]. Retrieved February 21, 2013, from here

7 De Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 185-222. Retrieved February 27, 2018.

8 Hosier, D. (2016). Three Critical Brain Regions Harmed by Childhood Trauma. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from here

9 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2012). The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain: Working Paper 12.  From here

10 Pechtel, P., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2011). Effects of early life stress on cognitive and affective function: an integrated review of human literature. Psychopharmacology, 214(1), 55–70. doi:10.1007/s00213-010-2009-2

11 Merrick MT, Ford DC, Ports KA, Guinn AS. (2018). Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences from the 2011-2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 23 States. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(11):1038–44.

12Hughes K, Bellis MA, Hardcastle KA, Sethi D, Butchart A, Mikton C, et al. (2017). The effect of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Public Health, 2(8):e356–66.