Author Archives: edmontonfetalalcoholnetwork

ACEs and Toxic Stress: Frequently Asked Questions

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Click here to download infographic.

What are ACEs?

The term “ACEs” is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences. It originated in a groundbreaking study conducted in 1995 by the Centers for Disease Control and the Kaiser Permanente health care organization in California. In that study, “ACEs” referred to three specific kinds of adversity children faced in the home environment—various forms of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction.

The key findings of dozens of studies using the original ACEs data are: (1) ACEs are quite common, even among a middle-class population: more than two-thirds of the population report experiencing one ACE, and nearly a quarter have experienced three or more. (2) There is a powerful, persistent correlation between the more ACEs experienced and the greater the chance of poor outcomes later in life, including dramatically increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, smoking, poor academic achievement, time out of work, and early death.

How do ACEs relate to toxic stress?

ACEs research shows the correlation between early adversity and poor outcomes later in life. Toxic stress explains how ACEs ”get under the skin” and trigger biological reactions that lead to those outcomes. In the early 2000s, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Childcoined the term “toxic stress” to describe extensive, scientific knowledge about the effects of excessive activation of stress response systems on a child’s developing brain, as well as the immune system, metabolic regulatory systems, and cardiovascular system. Experiencing ACEs triggers all of these interacting stress response systems. When a child experiences multiple ACEs over time—especially without supportive relationships with adults to provide buffering protection—the experiences will trigger an excessive and long-lasting stress response, which can have a wear-and-tear effect on the body, like revving a car engine for days or weeks at a time.

Importantly, the Council also expanded its definition of adversity beyond the categories that were the focus of the initial ACE study to include community and systemic causes—such as violence in the child’s community and experiences with racism and chronic poverty—because the body’s stress response does not distinguish between overt threats from inside or outside the home environment, it just recognizes when there is a threat, and goes on high alert.

What is trauma, and how does it connect to ACEs and toxic stress?

While trauma has many definitions, typically in psychology it refers to an experience of serious adversity or terror—or the emotional or psychological response to that experience. Trauma-informed care or services are characterized by an understanding that problematic behaviors may need to be treated as a result of the ACEs or other traumatic experiences someone has had, as opposed to addressing them as simply willful and/or punishable actions.

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How Children and Adults Can Build Core Capabilities for Life

Every day we take on the ordinary, sometimes challenging, tasks of work, school, parenting, relationships, and just managing our busy lives. How do we navigate these tasks successfully? And what can send us off course? Science offers an explanation. This 5-minute video explores the development and use of core capabilities — known as executive function and self-regulation skills — from early childhood into adolescence and adulthood.

Building on the Center’s 2013 video presenting the theory that building adult capabilities is necessary to improve child outcomes, this new video describes what these skills are, why they are important, how they develop, and how they are affected by stress. It combines an allegorical “scribe” storytelling technique with new animation of brain development to show how positive conditions support the development of these skills, and how adverse conditions make it harder to build and use them.

EFAN Monthly Meeting Agenda: Oct 2, 2018

Just a reminder of our upcoming October Network meeting. Please take note of the change in meeting times! Click here to download the agenda.Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.16.47 AM

FASD Frontline Meeting: Oct 9th, 2018

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Click here to download event poster.


Lakeland Centre for FASD Presents: SYSTEMS OF CARE, An approach to Mental Health & Substance Abuse

For more information or to register please phone 780-594-9905 or email 

CanFASD: Back to School #2 and #3

Back to School #2: FASD In Educational Settings. Part 1 – Simon Laplante


Simon Laplante is the Co-Chair of the CanFASD Family Advisory Committee and the adoptive father of a courageous young woman who struggles daily with ARND. He has a master’s degree in education and did his thesis on the impact of children with FASD on parents’ relationships with the school, community, and each other.

Simon has been working in the Manitoba public school system for 30 years as a teacher, vice-principal, principal, and assistant superintendent. He is presently a professor at the Université de St-Boniface in the Faculty of Education. Simon’s areas of interest are educational leadership, second language learning, Aboriginal education, and FASD. Fully bilingual, Simon has been involved in public speaking engagements on FASD for the last 10 years in educational settings and provincial conferences.

Simon can be reached at

Let’s be honest! Some educators know very little about FASD.  Many caregivers will testify to this lack of FASD awareness among teachers and educational leaders in general. It is not that people don’t care – they do! But caring and knowing how to work with students who have FASD are a world apart!

Students with FASD tend to do better in elementary school settings and struggle in secondary school settings. In fact, some high school students with FASD may not graduate. Some of the fundamental differences between elementary and secondary school are relationship and consistency. While in elementary school, a student with FASD will spend most of their day with the same teacher, forging trust and predictability. In secondary settings, going from one teacher to the other every hour or so, and having to adjust to different teaching styles and expectations, can be overwhelming for these students.

High schools need to really re-think their approaches when educating students with FASD to build stronger relationships and support educational success!

Simon Laplante
Educator and FAC member

Back to School #3: FASD in Educational Settings. Part 2 – Dorothy Reid


Dorothy Reid is the Co-Chair of the CanFASD Family Advisory Committee. She is also the owner of Reid Wellness Consulting, providing consultation and training to individuals and organizations on maintaining wellness. Dorothy previously worked with the Correctional System primarily in the area of mental health service development and delivery. She has extensive professional experience in working with individuals with FASD and other mental health concerns, and she has developed interventions for offenders with cognitive deficits. After obtaining a diagnosis of FASD for their two sons, Dorothy and her husband have been involved in the development of support groups for parent and caregivers of children with disabilities.

Dorothy can be reached at

In our last post on FASD and education, Simon Laplante hit the nail on the head when he discussed the difficulties transitioning from elementary to high school for many students with FASD.

In my experience with two sons, there was a world of difference in their educational experience.  My oldest son was not diagnosed until he was 10 years old.  Between grade 5 and grade 8, he was in three different schools as both we and the school administrators tried to find a program that could address his needs.  His IQ was in the average range but he had ADHD and had experienced a lot of early childhood disruptions.  When he hit high school, the demand for independence exceeded his capacity to self-regulate.  He received no special supports and ended his high school experience after grade 9.

My youngest son was diagnosed at 4 years old.  He worked with a speech and language therapist prior to school.  He had an awesome kindergarten teacher who actually switched classes to be able to keep him in her class for the first three years of school.  The school principals knew him.  We had therapists and specialists who worked with the school to provide support to my son and his teachers.  At the point of transition to high school, his teacher and principal met with us to discuss options.  We all agreed that a specialized work skills/life skills program would be the most appropriate for him, so they worked hard to have him accepted in the program.  They were successful, and our high school experience with him was totally different.  He had the same teacher and teacher assistant for five years.  Even though his IQ was in the border line range (you know, low enough to need help but too high to qualify for it), he was able to gain academic skills as well as social and employment skills.

Simon was right on target when he said that the relationship between the student and the educator is key.   Knowledge, commitment, and options in education for students with FASD can make the difference between spectacular school failure and associated loss of self-worth, and the tremendous accomplishment of school success.

Dorothy Reid,
Family Advisory Committee
CanFASD Research Network



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