CARTERVILLE — More than 130 professionals who work with children attended training in the physical ramifications of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress Tuesday morning at John A. Logan College.

As part of the training, the group viewed a documentary called “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” that looks at the science of adverse childhood experiences and a new movement to treat the resulting toxic stress — and even prevent it.

Ginger Meyer, clinical director for Children’s Medical and Mental Health Resource Network, led the workshop. In introducing the film, Meyer called adverse childhood experiences “the biggest public health crisis we have ever seen.”

“Toxic stress can trigger hormones that wreak havoc on the developing brains and bodies of children putting them at risk for disease, homelessness, prison time and early death [as adults]. Broader impacts of poverty may worsen the risk, and no segment of society is immune to this dark legacy of childhood that no child would ever choose,” Meyer said.

The film highlighted the following ACE experts:

Dr. Robert Anda, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and co-founder of the ACE study, found that Adverse Childhood Experiences are common. Some of the statistics from the study include: 28 percent of children have experienced physical abuse; 27 percent of children have experienced substance abuse; 13 percent of children have experienced domestic violence.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff, pediatrician and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, summed up the effects of toxic stress. “The child may not remember, but the body remembers,” Shonkoff said.

Pediatrician and CEO of the Center of Youth Wellness in San Francisco, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, said toxic stress affects a child’s development. She said children need a caring adult to buffer toxic stress.

“Trauma-informed treatment is not what is wrong with you, but asking what happened to you,” Burke Harris said.

After the film, those attending training discussed what they learned. Some of their highlights included:

  • Trauma therapy can provide coping skills and tools to talk about their experiences or “name the scary things.”
  • Home visits play a big part in a client’s therapy and help the therapist to better focus therapy and interventions.
  • Parents and others who work with children sometimes see coping mechanisms as problem behavior. It’s not what is wrong with the child, but what happened to him.

In the second part of training, Meyer spoke on “Lifespan Consequences of ACEs, Toxic Stress, and Trauma.”

She defined types of stress. Brief stress comes and goes quickly. Tolerable stress is stress experienced with a strong support system to act as a buffer. Toxic Stress is long-lasting, frequent and strong, and causes chemical reactions and changes in young bodies and brains.

Meyer said toxic stress is like shaking a two-liter bottle of soda. If the bottle is shaken enough and builds enough pressure, it will explode.

“It creates chain reaction that leads to behavior issues, dysregulated bodies, and later, can lead to disease in adult bodies,” Meyer said.

Toxic stress causes release of chemicals in the body that start the "flight, fight or freeze" response. In large doses, they can be very toxic to the body, leading atrophy in the brain and inflammation that is implicated in disease. It is this dysregulation that makes a child feel bad and try to regulate his or her body through drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors.

“We look at anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, as the problem, when in actuality that is a person’s solution to the real problem,” Meyer said.

She added that having that one person can help children reduce the effects of toxic stress. She said it is like slowly releasing pressure in the soda bottle by slowing unscrewing the cap.

Adults can help children learn what is happening to their bodies and brains, develop coping skills and learn self-rescue techniques.

Jo Poshard of The Poshard Foundation said the training offered room for 135 professionals. The foundation and Prevent Child Abuse Illinois sponsored the training. Poshard added that participants included judges, healthcare workers, teachers and therapists.

“I was really excited about the group that came. Adapters of hope, I really feel like that the group I was speaking to,” Meyer said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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