Your Number Story


Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris talk ACEs.


The story of your number is the story of your ACE history.

ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences. Our ACE history counts experiences of abuse, neglect and household challenges that happened to us as children. But that number does not define us. It is simply an entry point to our own personal story.

Where it leads is up to you.

what are aces?
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Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris team up to address ACEs.

What happens when two powerhouse leaders team up to address one of the most pressing issues of our time? Find out here in this dynamic conversation between the legendary Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris as they talk about ACEs.


What are ACEs?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can be highly stressful experiences that can happen to any of us before we turn 18.

ACEs are not our fault, and we didn’t have control over when or why they happened. They can be a single event. Or they can be an ongoing struggle where our safety, security, trust, or even our very sense of self is threatened or violated.

The original 10 ACEs

The term Adverse Childhood Experiences – or “ACEs” – comes from an important study published by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente in 1997. It looked at ten types of stressful or traumatic events that fall into three categories:


Encompasses physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.


Encompassess physical and emotional neglect.

Household Challenges

Growing up in a household with incarceration, mental illness, substance use, parental separation or divorce, or intimate partner violence.

As many of us know, these 10 ACEs are not the only kind of adversities we may face as children. Millions of us have experienced discrimination, poverty, and racism as kids, and these experiences can have similar impacts as ACEs. 

Other common childhood adversities beyond the ten ACEs in the original study include:

  • Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation (such as LGBTQ+), religion, learning differences, or disabilities
  • Poverty
  • Racism, systemic and institutional
  • Other violence, like getting bullied, experiencing violence yourself, or seeing others get hurt in your neighborhood, community or school
  • Intergenerational and cultural trauma, like the displacement and genocide of indigenous people, slavery, and the Holocaust
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver because of immigration or foster care
  • Other big changes in life, like migration or immigration, being a refugee or seeking asylum, moving to a new area where you don’t know anyone, or separation from someone important to you
  • Bereavement and survivorship, like having a relative or caregiver die, or surviving an illness, injury or accident, or natural disaster
  • Adult responsibilities as a child, like caring for someone who’s sick or disabled, or being the one responsible for getting food on the table at a young age

At the core of ACEs is adversity…

And when the stress of that adversity doesn’t go away, that stress can literally get under our skin and become toxic if we don’t have adequate support from our parents or caregivers.

What is toxic stress?

Stress on its own isn’t a bad thing. Our body’s stress response is designed to give us a boost of energy and increase focus so we can better tackle the task at hand.


Imagine being a child walking into class for a big test or onto the field for an important game. Our heart pumps faster and our palms sweat. This helps engage our body for the task ahead – and things return to normal once the situation is past.
This is a more intense level of stress brought on by challenging situations, like experiencing a natural disaster or a big life change. As children, a caring adult can buffer this stress and make it easier for us to process the event.
The stress response turns toxic when the challenging situation doesn’t end, or when there is no adult to help us process what we’ve been through. When our stress response stays active too long, it can hurt our body and brain, and even affect our behavior.

As children, ACEs can cause us to develop a toxic stress response. Living in poverty, or in a violent neighborhood, or dealing with discrimination can also cause a toxic stress response. To learn more about these and other childhood adversities and how they increase children’s risk for toxic stress, click here.

It’s important for parents, caregivers, and other adults who care about children to know that we can buffer and support kids who are experiencing adversity. To learn more about how to help kids, click here.

The bear in the house

Let’s say we spot a bear in the woods. Our heart pounds, our muscles tense, our senses spring to high alert. 

Which is good. That’s our body preparing us to fight the bear, run away from it as fast as we can, or hold completely still in hopes it passes us without harm. This is often referred to as Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

But what happens when the bear comes through the front door night after night? It triggers our fight, flight, or freeze response again and again and overloads the system.

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