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Adult Learner > Factors > Adverse Experiences

Adverse Experiences

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How Adverse Experiences connects to...

The trauma that comes from experiencing adversity releases stress hormones that can lead to changes in the body and brain. These changes can have negative consequences on academic achievement, cognitive skills, and other outcomes which can endure into adulthood.

Main Ideas

Adverse experiences include:

  • Interpersonal experiences that occur between people (e.g., physical abuse, witnessing assault; military combat); and
  • Non-interpersonal experiences inflicted by some other source (e.g., a motor vehicle accident, a natural disaster)

Exposure to trauma can begin in childhood. According to the 2012 U.S. National Survey of Children's Health, nearly half of children (46%) had at least one adverse experience, with 11% experiencing three or more. Trauma exposure is more common in adolescence than childhood. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder reports that approximately 6 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women have experienced at least one trauma in their lives, with men more likely to experience or witness physical assault or combat and women more likely to experience sexual assault. People of color may experience traumatic stress from racism over their lifespan. Adults may also experience trauma from being involved in the criminal justice system.

Trauma can impact adults' readiness to learn, for instance, brain injuries that produce cognitive impairments or emotional disturbances. Negative schooling experiences in childhood, including being bullied or ridiculed by other students or teachers, can cause adults to internalize negative messages about their intelligence. Additionally, Black, Indigenous, and other learners of color may have experienced racial trauma in the form of implicit or explicit biases or discrimination, such as school disciplinary policies.

While Adverse Experiences can have far-reaching impacts, there are evidence-based interventions available to support recovery.

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