Intermountain - Caring Solutions, Strong Families, Healthy Communities

Finish Strong

By Todd Garrison, Executive Director of ChildWise

Highlight this page and delete it! Or, highlight this page, print it and frame it where you can see it every day. Because this article is either going to make you mad and frustrated … or it might be just the thing you need at this moment in your life.

I read a quote by A.L. Williams today, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” This could be the theme of my work these days. You see, I’m a Certified Master Trainer in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. If you’re not familiar with this important ground-breaking research, I urge you to seek it out immediately! Essentially, it is decades-long deep research that links how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress can increase the risk of serious negative physical and social health throughout the lifespan. It is the largest public health study of its kind, and is serving as a wake-up call to everyone, everywhere. The Study shows that almost seventy-percent of our nation’s population has experienced adversity in childhood at some level. ACEs have no boundaries – gender, geography, generation, race, economic, or anything else. You see, ACEs are not “those people,” ACEs are us!

So, if ACEs have affected the majority of us – and are affecting our children right now, how is it that some folks seem to be doing fine and others not so fine? Well, we can’t really fully explain it because we only know a thimble-full about the brain, where toxic stress takes its toll and may result in these negative outcomes. This toxic stress can actually inhibit proper brain development, which can lead to all kinds of outcomes that you might think is a behavior problem. A child or youth throws a chair across the room at the teacher. A kiddo falls asleep in school at her desk. That young man can’t seem to remember an assignment he just read only three hours ago, and because he gets challenged by the teacher, he cusses and stomps off in a fury. They likely aren’t the bad kids you think they are. It very well could be because of how toxic stress can affect the developing brain. Remember this: It’s not the behavior, it’s the brain!

If you and I are in a coffee shop and a woman comes into the store in a wheelchair, and I say to you, “Whatever! I bet that chair is just an excuse. Why doesn’t she just get up and walk?”  You’d probably think I’m the absolute nastiest person on Earth! And you’d be right. I’d be unreasonable and insensitive. ACEs are like invisible wheelchairs. We need to change the way we think. However, we do know something about mitigating the effects of ACEs and toxic stress that can be very helpful today. It can be what we need to finish strong and help our children be stronger right now in spite of ACEs.

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

There are three things we all need to learn: the science of the ACE Study; how to become trauma-informed; and what it means to build resilience in children. As we focus on learning these three things for our children, we will learn how to help them and help ourselves, as well.

I have presented and trained on the ACE Study to literally thousands of people from all walks of life. Yes, it can be difficult research to hear and see, especially if you’ve personally experienced ACEs. But almost one-hundred-percent of the time, the people I present to are motivated by the research. I often hear comments like, “Wow! This is eye opening, but I understand my (fill in the blank – self, brother, spouse, boss, teacher, etc.) so much better!”  These comments are often followed by, “What can I do now?”

That’s what I love about my work. It motivates people to change the way they think about “bad” kids or difficult adults. It changes the conversation in their heads from, “What’s wrong with that person?” to “I wonder what’s happened to that person?” This new way of thinking might even start with that person you see in the mirror every morning. You might just finish strong because of this.

Learn and understand the ACE Study. Knowledge is power but it is also a responsibility. Once we know something different,we must do something different. Becoming trauma-informed is not complicated. It’s not something you simply check off after you’re read a book on it. It is a new way of thinking, a journey not a destination. It is simply knowing and understanding how toxic stress can effect brain development, child development, and in fact, human development… and responding to people with that new understanding.

Know this… adversity is not destiny. And once you embrace this new way of thinking and responding, learn about how to help build resilience in children and others. It’s a natural progression. It will help you and those around you finish strong, especially the children and youth around you.

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

Todd Garrison has worked in fund development and project development at Intermountain for over 14 years.  In 2010 he helped launch ChildWise Institute, a non-profit to help create safe, supportive families and communities for our nation’s vulnerable children through awareness, education and advocacy.  He now serves as the Executive Director of ChildWise.

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