ACE Test Score Interpretation: What Scores Do and Don't Mean

Recent studies indicate that almost 60% of children growing up in the U.S. experience at least one adverse childhood experience before reaching the age of majority.

A growing area of study suggests that children who experience more adverse events tend to also have greater health risks as adults, both in terms of mental and physical health. One way that social workers, doctors, therapists, and other medical providers can track that risk is the ACE score.

The ACE score is based on the Adverse Childhood Events test, a simple quiz of 10 questions. The results of this quiz can help at-risk people get the care and help that they need to avoid health problems and mental health crises.

But in order to understand the risks, it's important to understand ACE test score interpretation.

What is an ACE Score?

We've written about theACE Score before in-depth, but to put things in simple terms, the ACE score is a person's results on the Adverse Childhood Experiences test.

The test is 10 questions, based on the most common patterns of home dysfunction and abuse. The questions don't cover every adverse experience a child can have, of course. They work by detecting patterns in home dynamics that tend to go along with childhood trauma.

Higher ACE score test results often mean a higher risk of mental illness and can also mean a higher risk of certain health problems. Lower ACE scores don't mean someone will never have a mental illness or health problems, but the risk of developing them as an adult is lower, and the effects tend to be easier to treat.

How Does ACE Score Interpretation Work?

An ACE score isn't a crystal ball, and it doesn't guarantee anyone's fate. Trauma-informed medical professionals use the ACE test as part of a bigger, longer conversation about health risks and mental health.

One of the key issues with understanding the ACE test score meaning is that the test doesn't take positive things into account.

As experts can attest, someone may have a high ACE score, but be healthy and successful, and mentally well.

ACE score meaning has to take the positives into account as well. These are aspects of childhood experiences that help to foster resilience.

For example, if you had a teacher, older family member, or someone close to you who helped you to feel valuable, protected, and worthy, this factor can help cushion you against harm.

Interpreting the ACE score for a person is about the amount of trauma they lived through, but also about how much support they received.

How Do Adverse Childhood Experiences Impact Health?

It's easy to imagine how childhood trauma can cause future mental health issues. The connection between ACE scores and physical health can be harder to understand.

Adverse childhood events cause stress, which affects the body in a lot of different ways.

Even in adults, too much stress can lead to high blood pressure, stomach problems, immune problems, and other issues. In children, the high levels of stress hormones are even more powerful.

This is because a child's body and brain are still developing. The nervous system, the immune system, and organs are growing, forming, and changing. The stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol affect the way these systems develop.

Having an ACE score of 4 can indicate a higher risk of diseases like heart disease and stroke because the stress hormones in a child's body can cause high blood pressure. This damages the veins, arteries, and heart while they're still developing.

These same hormones also affect the immune system. As a child, high stress hormones can prevent your immune system from developing properly, making you more prone to infections. These hormones can also lead to chronic inflammation.

That inflammation can eventually cause autoimmune diseases, where the body's immune system attacks itself.

Context Matters with ACE Scores

Adverse childhood experiences can cause a lot of damage to the body and the mind. But these experiences aren't all the same, and the impact can vary based on other factors.

Childhood neglect, food scarcity, and similar experiences are terrible, but access to nutritious food and clean clothes helps children heal. Abuse can cause huge stress and behavioral problems, but therapy can help kids learn to manage emotions.

The important factor is time. The sooner a child's experience of neglect, abuse, or dysfunction is treated, the better the chance that they will recover.

As mentioned before, a high number of adverse events doesn't mean a child is destined to grow up sick or mentally ill. Adults in the child's life who can help go a long way toward preventing lasting issues.

Checking a child's ACE scores throughout the school years can help catch problems sooner rather than later.

Although it's best if professionals do this checking, adults in the community can play a role as well. Checking in with kids in your community can help you find out who might be experiencing neglect or abuse, and help the kids get out of bad situations.

Just by having access to safety and security, many childhood adverse experiences have less power.

ACE Scores Help Adults and Children Get Better

The ACE score meaning isn't a perfect prediction of someone's future health. However, ACE test score interpretation can help adults find out which kids might need protection. It can also help identify parents who need help.

By knowing how to interpret ACE test scores, adults in the community can help children recover from adverse events and go on to lead healthier lives.

ChoiceMD is committed to helping spread awareness of the impact of ACE scores for both children and adults. Learn more about us here.