By an Adopt4Life Community Parent
My interest in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder came from many fronts. I began my teaching career working with children some of who were prenatally exposed to alcohol but there was little diagnosis except for severe cases. I had a small child come into my kindergarten class whose foster mom said she had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I inquired what that meant and she did not know except that she didn’t do things like the other children, and she was right. She did not. She did however have a zest for life that was unequaled in the classroom.
I subsequently had many children who displayed many of the executive functioning issues that plagued children with FASD except they had no diagnosis and were unlikely to get one. My concern was how do I teach the children and, basically, had to go with what they seemed to need. I learned by trial and error.
When I first began looking for information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in 1983, there was very little to be found. At the time, I was searching for what do I do for the children, who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol, when I had them in my classroom. Indeed, many times these children arrive in a classroom without a diagnosis. We didn’t have access to the internet as we do today which may or may not be a good thing. There is so much information that it is very difficult to determine the validity of information as almost anything can be put on the internet.
In my research for more information I came across many pictures. One such picture is that of two brains one larger than the other. The picture is accredited to Dr. Sterling Clarren, MD. The larger photo is a picture of a brain of a 6-week-old child who died of non-alcohol related causes. The smaller brain was that of a child who died as a result of being severely exposed to alcohol. What is not talked about, and indeed not written under the pictures, is that this photo depicts a very severe case. Children born with prenatal alcohol exposure may have been exposed to carrying degrees of exposure.
I also discovered that even with a diagnosis, it did not mean that services would be available or that the professionals knew how to help the children learn and grow in this world
I have a daughter who came into my family as a friend of my daughter’s and whose mom I was friends with. She spent more time with me and my family off and on over her lifetime than with her own. It was only when I was visiting with her mom some time later that her mom told me about drinking every day to prevent morning sickness. She was a bar-maid and her boss told her this would help. Her mom was also an unemployed teacher. She spent all her time with her when she was little teaching her daughter. I believe that made the difference. She did not realize it but, today we would say, she was laying neuropathways. I believe that is part of the reason that my daughter has done well in life academically. Hard work and determination have served her well. Does she have problems with some things: most certainly. Somethings have been very hard for her throughout her entire life.
Many children are born prenatally exposed to alcohol and are subsequently diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum, a Canadian medical diagnosis which includes FASD with sentinel facial features and FASD without sentinel facial features. "For babies and young children who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol as well as have the early signs of developmental disorders concerns can be designated as "At risk for neurodevelopmental disorder and FASD, associated with prenatal alcohol exposure."’
The First Annual Eastern Ontario FASD Symposium––Successfully Supporting Invisible Disabilities provided us with tremendous possibilities for the future for those with FASD. Everything from building neuropathways to finding markers on DNA to hearing the possibilities from those with FASD and those who care for them. There are so many opportunities today in comparison to what was known in 1983. The internet has some good information from reputable sites. As parents and educators, we are the ones who make a difference in the lives of our children. We are the ones who are out there advocating for our children and making a difference in their lives. Grab every opportunity you can find, learn what you can and pass it on.