Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Talking about ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and “Trauma Informed Care” is now a cottage industry in America. People come up to me in breathless enthusiasm, asking: “Do you know about ACES? Is your work ‘trauma informed’?”
Let me be very clear: I know quite a bit about ACES both as a child with parents engaged in domestic violence and addictions, and as child psychologist and scientist. PAX and my prior work were designed, tested, and are proven to reduce trauma and ACEs. Trauma can happen at home, school, and community.
Children exposed to ACEs—no matter the source—tend to react physiologically, emotionally, and behaviorally to reminders of those past traumatic events. Loud voices, angry faces, chaotic or loud sounds often trigger students who've experienced ACEs. This is a Psych 101 example of classical or Pavlovian conditioning. Repeated exposure to such classically conditioned "reminders" can create a whole host of symptoms that casually get deemed ADHD, anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance, etc. The child doesn't need meds so much as needs a "Nurturing Environment" to soothe the trauma reactions, which can then "rewire" the child's brain. How does that happen without tons of counseling, therapy, etc.?
So with PAX GBG, we deliberately reduce "toxic influences" in classrooms and schools. How? Well, staff learn to use predictable, non-threatening cues that also change voices, facial expressions and classically conditioned accidental "triggers." For example, PAX Quiet uses a harmonica and the peace-sign for transitions, instead of clapping hands, shushing children, raising voices, or threatening punishments that are often reminders of trauma. PAX Quiet reduces transitions to a few seconds, providing another hour a day of peaceful, positive time for instruction and learning. With the PAX Language, PAX Cues and Kernels, problematic, disruptive or even fear/trauma evoking behaviors drop 50% in just a few weeks. We've proven that in thousands of classrooms around the world, and each teacher gets an App to allows them to measure that change.
The introduction and playing the PAX Game (aka the Good Behavior Game) further reduces those problematic behaviors even more, and reduces actual child psychiatric disorders within semester or more of exposure to PAX GBG. One or two years of exposure have lasting effects documented into adulthood. And, the post-doctoral fellows at Johns Hopkins University (where I am a co-investigator). It's clear from the follow up data that is now being extended to age 35 for our Hopkins sample that a whole suite of markers of ACEs are reduced by PAX GBG.
For example, our data show that parents become much more reinforcing of their children's actions and less rejecting. We know that our students exposed to PAX GBG are less likely engage in every form of addictions, including opiate use. They are less likely to engage in violent behavior or crime, and less likely to become pregnant early in life. Most tellingly, our "graduates" from PAX GBG are less likely to attempt suicide or engage in early sex. Biologically, we have even measured protective gene expression in the brain. With age 35 data being collected, we may now be able to measure how well the "graduates" of PAX GBG are going in their marriages and with their own children. All this is to say, ACEs are preventable and can be remediated.