Adverse childhood experiences and developmental disabilities: risks, resiliency, and policy

Kiley Morgart, Joyce Nolan Harrison, Alexander H. Hoon, Anna Maria Wilms Floet

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Thanks to the seminal work of Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, it is now widely accepted that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have lifelong effects on physical, behavioral, and mental health and that many adult diseases can be considered developmental disorders that began early in life. Genomics has advanced the neurobiological understanding that underpins ACEs, wellness, and disease, which are modulated through stress pathways and epigenetic modifications. While data are currently limited, children with developmental disabilities have an increased ACE risk compared to typically developing peers. This recognition has important ramifications for health and policy interventions that address the root causes of ACEs, especially in this vulnerable population. With increased societal recognition, advances in policy will lead to medical, financial, and public benefits in years to come, hopefully changing healthcare models from ‘sick care’ to ‘well care’. What this paper adds Adverse childhood experience (ACE) research has refocused medicine from the question ‘What is wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’. Adopting ACE research into public policy can redirect healthcare models from providing ‘sick care’ to promoting ‘well care’. Not exploring the role of ACEs in children with developmental disabilities leads to further vulnerability and morbidity. ACEs can be mitigated by early identification and implementation of evidence-based interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1149-1154
Number of pages6
JournalDevelopmental medicine and child neurology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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