By an Adopt4Life Community Parent
He’s just a boy. It must just be a parenting thing. Don’t worry—he’ll grow out of it. But he doesn’t have the facial features! These are the words and advice that followed us and our son from doctor to doctor as we continued to advocate for more. Eventually one doctor diagnosed him with severe ADHD… but it didn’t sit right, it couldn’t explain all his needs. Was he hyper? Yes. Sensory issues? Sure, but it was more. Call it mother's intuition, or perhaps pure exhaustion from the constant behavioural outbursts, falls, memory loss, lack of impulse control and self-regulation. I decided to continue to push…this was NOT a parenting issue…my son, our son adopted at age 15 months and now 5, was showing signs of FASD. We didn’t have any formal confirmation of drinking at that point, but I wasn’t ready to give up.
Our son's adoption was closed, and we were told not to attempt face-to-face contact as a result of some safety issues. Was I taking a risk? Yes, but out of pure desperation, and perhaps a little bit of hope, we reached out to an extended family member - we would send a very uncomfortable message. I remember it going something like “Hi, you don’t know me, but I think you know our children and we need your help.” It was that call that really changed everything for us. Not only did we open ourselves up to a now meaningful relationship, but we received the confirmation that we were needing—that our son's birth mother drank and used narcotics throughout her entire pregnancy.
Armed with new information, we asked for a referral to a fifth specialist, as the previous four did not agree with an FASD diagnosis. When we got the call from our local FASD clinic, so many mixed emotions went through me. I was happy to finally be heard, but riddled with guilt to put our son through so much testing. As he was under 6, the FASD assessment included hours of different testing including speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychology. He was pulled out of school and spent hours on end being asked a series of questions…trying so hard to keep it together as these strangers pushed him for more.
Then came the wait… all of the testing was to be examined and the results to be shared. I remember feeling like the wait was so much more painful...what if he doesn’t have FASD and I forced him to go through all of this for nothing? Could it really be a parenting issue that I just can't see? Then the call…
“Please come in to a meeting with the team. Ma’am, your son has FASD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and will more than likely need ongoing support in the future.”
I remember sitting there around a table full of professionals, all staring at me, quiet and empathetic. Out of the silence I was asked, “How do you feel?” and my answer… I felt heard.
I was relieved, sad, frustrated, and encouraged all at the same time. There was a name for this, I am NOT a bad parent, my son has a permanent brain injury. I remember the car ride home that day with him, where my son, who just turned 6 asked, “Mom, why am I going to all of these appointments?”
Looking at my husband, we knew we had to tell him the truth. So in the most gentle way we could, we explained what FASD was and how people can get it. We explained that his brain worked a little different, and that everyone has things they are good at and things that they are not. We talked about how good people can make bad decisions, and how that doesn’t affect how much they love someone. As I watched my son process all of this information, half wishing I was more prepared to answer these questions, I could tell that in his own way he found a bit of peace and understanding of his needs. We know that this will be an ongoing conversation, that there will be harder questions that we won't always know the answer to, and that we’ll continue to have our good and bad days.
I always thought that in adoption the “beginning” was when our children moved home and we became parents. I’ve learned that throughout our parenting journey that “beginning” is ever changing. As we embark on this new chapter in our lives, one that is so much more equipped to support our son, I urge all families who are currently questioning or beginning their FASD assessment journey to never give up, trust your intuition, and seek the support you need.