As a pediatric resident physician, I treat kids whose problems extend beyond the diseases I learned about in medical school. Often, helping children and families requires looking into root causes hidden outside of doctors’ offices.
One such problem is toxic stress endured by children who have had adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse, neglect or family dysfunction.
In the late 1990s, a landmark study of 17,000 adults found that 67 percent of patients had at least one adverse childhood experience and 13 percent had four or more. Researchers found that patients who had experienced abuse, neglect or dysfunction as children were more likely to develop unhealthy behaviors and adult illnesses.
Asking about adverse childhood experiences is difficult for families and pediatricians. Health systems struggle to adequately respond to a positive screening.
Cities, schools and clinics have developed programs to address adverse childhood experiences, but public awareness is lacking. While these programs grow, I encourage doctors, teachers and parents to talk about adverse childhood experiences. These conversations are the first step toward healing.
Keith Martin of Kansas City is originally from Dracut, Mass. He graduated with his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and is in his second year of pediatric residency in Kansas City.