Experiences early in life critically impact brain development for learning, relationships, behavior

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

Blog Post by Donna Lowry, MD, CEO/President, Ready for School

Experiences early in life critically impact brain development for learning, relationships, behavior and health.

Children’s health and development are cultivated by schools, families, and communities – in other words, we’re all in this together. In a recent interview with Bridge Michigan, Michael Rice, The New Michigan State Superintendent called for wider recognition of the mental-health challenges that students bring to school. Our community agrees.

Supported by community leaders, Ottawa County residents (educators, doctors, first responders, faith leaders) are taking strategic steps to increase awareness of the impact of childhood adverse experience and adult health. This project is called Thrive Ottawa County.  Under the leadership of Lynne Doyle, Ottawa County Community Mental Health and Patrick Cisler, Community Spoke we are building community change through training community champions and mobilizing an awareness campaign. 

How do adverse experiences impact lives?  Kids’ lives threatened today not only become a barrier to school readiness as they enter the doors of kindergarten, but bring on greater health risk tomorrow.  Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), a measure of abuse and neglect, impact adult health.  Research of the last two decades show there is a direct relationship between the number of ACEs one experiences and negative health outcomes later in life.  These health effects result from the body being imprinted by a chronic, hyperactive stress response.  The studies of Anda and Felitti reveal that this unhealthy response increases a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, obesity, substance abuse and depression, even suicide.

Data trends are useful in directing attention to areas of greatest need. The most recent Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment, Ottawa Community Health Needs Assessment 2017 for the first time included ACEs screening.  The data reveal that locally, 53% had experienced 1 ACE and 14% had experienced 4 or more.  The more ACE exposure, the higher the incidence of adult chronic disease, high risk behaviors, suicide and depression.

Investing in the earliest years of a child’s life is vital.   We must