Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
- Psychological abuse by parents/caregivers (e.g. verbal abuse, excessive punishment):
MAYBE – As the youngest, he was often tormented by his family, not to mention by extended relatives. It’s hard to get the phrase “Look what you did you little jerk” out of your mind.
- Physical abuse
NO – Not by an adult in the household.
- Sexual abuse
NO – Not referenced.
- Emotional neglect
MAYBE – This is difficult to say yes or no to. Kevin felt like he didn’t belong in the family and was often told he didn’t belong by relatives, and he was forgotten by family. However, on a deep level, he did seek and pursue family connection.
- Physical neglect or malnourishment
NO – This wasn’t a concern. Despite being left home alone, his family did respond adequately to return home (and a year later to New York)
- Domestic violence
NO – Not mentioned.
- Parental alcoholism or drug use in home
NO – Not referenced.
- Loss of biological parent before age 18 (Death or absence)
NO – Both parents are alive.
- Parental mental illness or depression
MAYBE – It’s hard to tell the state of parents when their child is missing. Understandably there was a hyper anxiety like focus.
- Household member imprisoned
NO – Not mentioned.
- Multiple changes in placement or primary caregiver
NO – Not mentioned.
- Serious medical issue involving hospitalization?
NO – Not mentioned.
Discussion About ACEs
Kevin experienced a range of 0-3 adverse childhood experiences. While ACE’s is informative, things that could be deemed as traumatic are not always considered ongoing adverse experiences. In Kevin’s case, being left home alone, have burglars threaten your life, and then later being lost in New York City, could all have been traumatic experiences for him, but do not show up on the ACE’s assessment.
While the following is a parody, it does show the potential long term effects of untreated traumatic experiences.
Protective Childhood Experiences (PCEs)
- Able to talk to family about emotions
YES – Kevin was able to freely express how he was feeling and the thoughts that accompanied them. Doesn’t mean there weren’t consequences or prosequences about them.
- Felt that family stood by in difficult times
MAYBE – On one hand, his family forgot about him twice during high stress vacation situations. But then on the other, when they realized they had forgotten him, the did everything in their abilities to return home. Then again, his family wasn’t there during the burglary or the chase in New York City, but they were their to buffer him afterwards.
- Enjoy participating in community traditions
YES – His family appears to have traditions, and Kevin did seek out community churches and spaces when he was alone.
- Felt belonging in high school
UNKNOWN – We never really get to experience Kevin in a middle or high school setting.
- Felt supported by friends
UNKNOWN – Kevin isn’t depicted with peers his age.
- Having atleast two nonparent adults who show genuine care
YES – “Old Man” Marley and the Pigeon Lady.
- Felt safe and protected by an adult at home
YES – When his parents are home with him, Kevin appears to feel safe and protected.
Discussion About PCEs
From what we know about Kevin, he appears to have experienced nearly all of the protective childhood experiences. It is curious to understand why PCE’s seem to refer to teen years more than childhood years. For example, why is it just a sense of belonging in high school? What about elementary or middle (junior high) school?
It’s important to keep in mind that ACE’s and PCE’s are not ratios. One ACE isn’t neutralized by one PCE.
Positive Psychology (PERMA)
- Positive Emotions: It is interesting to observe, in both cases, a sense of confidence and maturity grow in Kevin. He starts off, for example, being scared of the furnace in the basement, but as time goes on, he shows a shift from unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts, and overcomes his fear of the furnace. Not to mention, Kevin would probably describe himself as silly, pleasant, happy, and creative.
- Engagement: In terms of flow, you see Kevin achieve that as he comes up with an elaborate plan to protect his house, and himself (which we could lead to a great discussion between the difference of survival focus, and flow). He also sought out his church community and used that as a place of refuge.
- Relationships: Kevin seems polarizing in his relationships. In one moment with family he hates them, and they are annoyed with him, then later (mind you after some time apart) there is a sweet connection. Also, he starts off afraid of a strange neighbour (the old man), and then they end up having a deep impact on each others lives.
- Meaning: Pretty typical for a child to struggle with their place in life, and to take on the role that others define for them. But as Kevin began to see himself as the protector of the house, and a secret identity he held from his family, he had a new found purpose in his life.
- Achievement: Survive being home alone. Check. Survive being pursued by burglars. Check. Defend the house from robbery. Check. Survive being alone in New York City. Check. Save a store from being robbed. Check. It’s fair to say, whether intentional or not, Kevin did achieve his goals.
Discussion About PERMA
It is fair to say that Kevin is experiencing positive emotions, feels engaged, has positive relationships, finds meaning, and accomplishes achievement; therefore, Kevin is living a positive life. It is not free from hardships, but he is practicing the five pillars of positive psychology.
Post Traumatic Stress vs Post Traumatic Growth
- Post Traumatic Stress:
- Re-experiencing: This is difficult to assess, because we don’t necessarily meet Kevin in his later life. However, the commercial below does lend to the idea that Kevin may be re-experiencing, or even recreating in his older life.
- Avoidance: He doesn’t necessarily avoid places or situations where traumatic events happened.
- Numbing: The only numbing behaviours that Kevin engages with are TV and snacking, other than that he appears to be someone who lives in, and experiences the moment.
- Hyperarousal: Kevin during times of high stress (being chased) was in a state of hyperarousal, and then had some moments of difficulty sleeping because of the hyperarousal.
- Post Traumatic Growth:
- Relationships: Kevin formed new relationships in times of hardship. “Old Man” Marley and the Pigeon Lady. He also seemed to form fresher, and potentially stronger relationships with his siblings and parents after the traumatic experiences.
- New Possibilities: Kevin definitely seized the moment and used his creativity to defend his house.
- Personal Strength: Yes, he developed a new confidence in his abilities despite being mistreated as the youngest sibling.
- Spiritual Change: It’s hard to tell if going to church was a regular part of life, or somewhere he deemed safe when in trouble. Not that church participation means spirituality. But a sudden change, either from not going to going, or from going to not going, would be a spiritual change. Also, there seemed to be transformative moments with each of his new adult mentors that created a deep change inside of him, and a perspective shift.
- Appreciation for Life: Maybe? Maybe just typical baseline with no change? He doesn’t show any greater appreciation for life, but neither an increase in disrespect for life.
Discussion About Post Traumatic Growth
It’s fair to say that Kevin experienced a lot of growth from the two times he was left alone. It’s also hard to tell if these were terrible moments for Kevin, or traumatic. Because trauma is such an individual experience and interpretation of an event. Some of us may label these moments as traumatic, but Kevin may never show any signs of “trauma” due to his own traits and family/peer support. That being said, this would atleast be a terrible experience, and Kevin experienced growth from the hardships.
I think there is a quick assumption that after something “bad” happens therapy is needed. That isn’t necessarily always the case. Repetitive moments and messages of safety and care can let the brain know it’s safe. So with that in mind, here are a couple of intervention ideas:
Timing. I think it’s important to let Kevin participate in therapy when he wants to. Don’t force him to go. In this moment, his experiences may not be interfering with his life, and if we force him to go and it is a negative experience, the chances of him seeking counselling when he is 15, 25, or 55, is less likely. Not that a child gets to choose, offer, maybe book an initial visit. If they don’t want to go back, don’t. If they do, book another appointment.
Safety & Security. Kevin will need to be reminded that he is just a child, and needs to be a child. He will need reassurance from the adults in his life that he is safe and that proper security measures are in place. This can be reminders that mom and dad are home, that doors are locked at night, that the family has security cameras, etc. Part of that safety and security is also connection to parents, that he can feel their love, care, and trust; therefore meaning that his parents need to provide warmth and reception to his potential inquiries about safety.
Belonging. After being forgotten twice, it may be understandable that Kevin feels like he doesn’t belong in his family. It would be important for the family to develop micro traditions to help Kevin feel that he belongs. This can be family readings, outings, walks, hugs after school, 15-minute board games, family meals, and so on. Little traditions and rituals to let Kevin know that he belongs.
Kevin experienced two very lonely moments during, what our society deems, peak moments of family connection. However, despite the struggles of being left alone, and then the threats to his safety and life, Kevin navigated the situations well. He was also received well by family upon reunification.
Lastly. Remember, this is fictional. Healing is always possible.