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ACEs impact on brain development
March 1, 2018
Most brain development happens in the first few years of a child’s life. Genes provide the brain’s basic blueprint, but experiences shape the brain architecture and establish the foundation for future learning, health and behavior.
Learning to cope with stress is an important part of a child’s development. When we are threatened, our bodies help us respond by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones, such as cortisol. When a young child’s stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive adult relationships, these physiological effects are buffered and brought back down to baseline. The result is the development of a healthy response system.
Toxic stress occurs when a child experiences strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity without adequate adult support. The prolonged activation of the stress response systems disrupts the development of the brain and other organs and increases the risk for stress-related diseases and cognitive impairment. The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse and depression.