Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Have many harmful things happened in your childhood? This 10-question ACE test tells you – and a Finnish expert comments on how to take the test


With the help of the ACE test, you can find out if you’ve encountered one of the most famous adverse childhood experiences. Forensic psychology expert Taina Lajsallo explains why test results should be taken seriously.

Most of the population has experienced at least one ACE. ACE is the acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

ACE experiences refer to events that are considered harmful and potentially traumatic to a child’s growth and development, explains lead researcher and forensic psychology expert Taina Lazsallo.

Lajsalo is involved in the Finnish ACElife research project, launched at the beginning of the year, which aims to study harmful experiences and their consequences in childhood and find ways to prevent and treat them.

Harmful childhood experiences can be divided into three different categories according to the most popular method of classification:

1. Experiences of violence. These can be further divided into physical, mental or sexual violence.

2. Experiences of physical or emotional neglect.

3. Miscellaneous family problems. For example, violence between parents, mental health and substance abuse disorders in the family, prison sentences, or prolonged separation from a parent due to divorce, for example.


Not all ACE experiences are related to parenting and home, but can also occur outside the home.

However, according to Lajsalo, the divide is not entirely wide. More and more attention has been paid to the fact that, for example, poverty, discrimination and bullying in families with children are missing from the group.

– So not all ACE experiences are closely related to upbringing and home, but they can also be problems outside the home, related to the structures of society, explains Lajsallo.

It is also not possible to talk about harmful experiences without taking into account protective factors, such as the child’s social support network and trusted adults who value the child.

If protective factors are in order in a child’s life, the impact of harmful experiences can be minimized.

As experience increases, the risks increase

Adverse childhood experiences are not rare, with most people having at least one of them.

ACE experiences do not automatically mean that the person could not have had a happy childhood – and that their parent was still a good parent.

Some of us live childhoods without a single traumatic experience, Lajsallo reminds.

However, it is worrying if harmful experiences accumulate and many of them accumulate for one person. Then the risk of problems also increases.

The more harmful experiences a person has, the greater the risk of side effects, Lazsallo says.

Adverse effects can also be seen in adulthood. As harmful childhood experiences accumulate, for example, the risk of psychiatric disorders, problematic substance use, suicidal behavior, and delinquency increase.

The risk of physical diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart and respiratory diseases also increases.

– If four or more adverse experiences occur, the risk of some somatic disease is about 2-3 times higher than in the case where none occurs. In the case of suicide and substance use, a sevenfold higher risk has been reported, Lazsallo says.


People have an amazing ability to face difficult situations and move forward.

However, Lajsalo stresses that the increased risk does not mean that the things in question will become true for anyone.

– Everyone’s life story is individual, and even in adulthood, the person himself can influence how important early experiences in his life are in the end.

People have an incredible ability to face difficult things and move on.

What help is needed?

If you think the background of your own difficulties are harmful childhood experiences, Lazsalo recommends talking to a trusted and safe person.

– Some even benefit from, for example, writing. That way, you can reflect on your own life story and think about everything that ties into it.

In addition, you can discuss issues together with a professional assistant.

– Often a large part of the therapy work is thinking about the relationship between the present condition and childhood.

However, according to Lajsalo, it’s important to remember that life has many causes, and you can’t always make a direct connection between harmful experiences and the present moment.

Get tested if you have any adverse experiences

The ACE score test is also commonly used, which aims to measure the number of harmful experiences during childhood. In the test, each harmful experience corresponds to one point. Generally, four points have been considered to be the borderline where the risk of symptoms begins to increase.

According to Lajsalo, however, the test has some problems: It treats all experiences the same, the questions ask many different things at the same time, and the test doesn’t take into account protective factors.

Lajsallo therefore urges caution in interpreting the results.

– Indeed, the weighting values ​​of events probably depend on, for example, the age at which the harmful experience was experienced and whether the experience was one-off or repeated.

According to Lajsallo, it is also not problem-free to score, for example, a short period of parental depression as damaging an experience as years of physical or sexual violence against a child.

Lajsalo says THL is currently developing a more functional meter for measuring ACE experiences.

However, this commonly used test is indicative if you want to see what the most famous ACE experiences are – and how many of them you encountered in your childhood.

If you don’t see the test above, you can do it here.

Test sources: Test questions are translated into Finnish from Harvard University’s ACE test, which was prepared based on questions from the original ACE study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the test has used the ACE test in Finnish from Mieliservices.

Read more: Have you lost the ability to concentrate? Answer 9 questions to find out if you may have self-inflicted Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD).

Read more: How can childhood trauma manifest as an adult? A psychiatrist explains – and reveals two important things about childhood

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