Understanding Your ACEs Score: FACT not FATE!

Last Updated by Kate Spears on

This week on WCTE’s Get Ready To Learn radio show, join Cindy Putman and Elisabeth Jones as they discuss the impact that ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have on children's lives.

Jones is a educator in the Putnam County school system and is currently a teacher at White Plains Academy where she works with a wide range of students, many of whom have had some sort of traumatic episode.

Because of her extensive work with students, she understands the impact that ACEs can have on a student's learning, emotional well-being, and ability to succeed in and outside the classroom. Putman and Jones dig deep into ACEs research and share many of their findings.

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue. It’s important to consider that when talking about ACEs, the questions to determine one’s ‘score’ refer to the respondent’s first 18 years of life.

Abuse is a common theme in the ACEs study, including the following:

  • Emotional abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home swore at you, insulted you, put you down, or acted in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt.
  • Physical abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home pushed, grabbed, slapped, threw something at you, or hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured.
  • Sexual abuse: An adult, relative, family friend, or stranger who was at least 5 years older than you ever touched or fondled your body in a sexual way, made you touch his/her body in a sexual way, attempted to have any type of sexual intercourse with you.
  • Household Challenges: Mother treated violently: Your mother or stepmother was pushed, grabbed, slapped, had something thrown at her, kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, hit with something hard, repeatedly hit for over at least a few minutes, or ever threatened or hurt by a knife or gun by your father (or stepfather) or mother’s boyfriend.
  • Household substance abuse: A household member was a problem drinker or alcoholic or a household member used street drugs.
  • Mental illness in household: A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.
  • Parental separation or divorce: Your parents were ever separated or divorced.
  • Criminal household member: A household member went to prison.

Another hallmark of the ACEs research is neglect, and the different ways neglect can be present in a child’s life. This includes:

  • Emotional neglect: Someone in your family helped you feel important or special, you felt loved, people in your family looked out for each other and felt close to each other, and your family was a source of strength and support.2
  • Physical neglect: There was someone to take care of you, protect you, and take you to the doctor if you needed to, you didn’t have enough to eat, your parents were too drunk or too high to take care of you, and you had to wear dirty clothes.

Jones shares about events that happened in her life, events that rocked her to her very core, including the death of her father when she was 28. Her experiences have helped her relate to her students who have lost a parent.

Jones shares how the original ACEs study was done with a group of white, middle-class individuals participating in a weight loss study. The director of the study realized that many of his participants had been victims of sexual abuse, using weight as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from the world around them. He also realized that their weight had a negative impact on their health.

That study was conducted in 1985 by Dr. Vincent Felitti, chief of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego. The confusing thing was more than half of the 1,500 people who enrolled in the weight-loss clinic every year left before completing the program.

As Dr. Felitti dug deeper, he began learning things about the participants that didn’t quite add up. Eventually, through interviews with his subjects, he uncovered a disturbing trend of childhood sexual abuse. Many saw being overweight as a way to hide or become invisible to protect themselves from future situations, like those that had happened during their childhoods.

More than six million obese and morbidly obese people are likely to have suffered physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse during their childhoods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ACE Study. It’s likely that millions more can point to other types of childhood trauma – including loss of a parent through divorce, living with an alcoholic parent or a mentally ill family member – or other traumatic experiences such as rape or assault — as a starting point for their weight gain.

Here’s the critical irony: Many people who are obese look at eating as a solution, not a problem. Food offers comfort ….a sure, but temporary escape and relief from stress, bad memories, shame, or guilt, even when obesity becomes uncomfortable or even life-threatening.

For many millions of overweight people, information about diets, nutritional advice, food marketing or exercise are irrelevant and will have no effect.

The big takeaway that Jones and Putman want everyone to learn is that people do not have to suffer in silence. There are programs in place throughout the Upper Cumberland to aid in helping someone work with and work through their ACEs score: 


Putnam County School System

1400 East Spring St. | Cookeville, TN 38506 | 931-526-9777

PCSS has a Student Services department with trained staff on hand to help. Plus each school has a counselor.


The Upper Cumberland Family Justice Center

269 S. Willow Ave., Suite E | Cookeville, TN 38501 | 931-528-1512 or 866-704-1080

This organization is a coalition of agency and governmental partners who offer services and assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and elder abuse. Onsite partners are from the fields of social services, victim advocacy, civil legal aid, counseling, law enforcement, and prosecution. You can also contact via email at familyjusticecenteruc@gmail.com.


Genesis House

P.O. Box 1180 | Cookeville, TN 38503

Safety Alert: If you are in immediate danger, call 911, or call the Genesis House 24 hour Crisis Line at 931-526-5197 or 800-707-5197.


Plateau Mental Health Center

1200 South Willow Street | Cookeville,TN 38506 | 931-432-4123


For additional information about topics discussed on WCTE’s Get Ready To Learn Radio Show contact Cindy Putman or Kristy Keeling at 931-528-2222 ext # 300


Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM.


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WCTE’s Educational Team can customize workshops or professional development trainings for your group or organization. For workshop information, or to inquire about scheduling a workshop, call 921-528-2222 x. 227 or email us.

Topics are listed below:

  • Using Media as a learning tool
  • Using PBS kids apps to extend learning
  • How to be your child’s first teacher
  • Sesame Street Workshops
  • How does poverty effect a child’s brain
  • Literacy and Math
  • Brain Development

Workshops can be conducted in English and Spanish.