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Most of you reading this (is that an echo I hear…) probably have never heard of FAS/FAE (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects).  FAS is a disorder caused by a pregnant woman ingesting alcohol during pregnancy that causes brain damage in the unborn child.  There is no hard or fast rule on how much alcohol causes brain damage or how much damage will result from it.  Much of it depends on the physiology of the child.  Some doctors report being able to smell alcohol in the amniotic fluid during the birth of an FAS child.

Consider yourself fortunate if you’ve never had to raise an FAS child or if you’ve ever been close to someone raising such a child.  My wife and I adopted our daughter at the age of 6, knowing that it was possible that she may have full-blown FAS or, at least, FAE.  Since this was an international adoption and we had not yet met our daughter in person, we consulted with a physician who specialized in reviewing medical information, video tapes, etc., of these kinds of children.  He cautioned us and we came away from the consultation being somewhat disillusioned.  We didn’t change our minds, however, and truly believed God was leading us to go through with the adoption.

We had a great adventure while we were in Europe, travelling, doing paperwork, meeting various interesting people, and interacting for the first time with our new daughter.  She was very quiet and said no more than a few words each day.  Occasionally, there would be an excited outburst when she would notice an airplane flying over, a helicopter, or a motorcycle.  After we returned home, however, things headed south fairly quickly.  We began experiencing severe temper tantrums, sometimes one to two hours long or longer (once up to 6 hours).  She was often completely out of control, becoming physically and verbally abusive.  We finally had to resort to therapeutic holds to keep her from destroying property and from hurting herself or us.  My wife especially suffered a lot of, well, crap during this time.  Our daughter would punch, kick, spit, bite, scratch, head butt, and just about anything else she could think of during these tantrums.  I remember coming home from work that first day after returning from Europe and finding my wife with her arms and legs covered with bruises and scratches.  I also remember how powerless and defeated we felt.  What were we doing?  Were we handling this correctly?  Did we just make a huge mistake?

Things finally got better after a few months, though we would still hit a bump in the road every now and then.  We’ve recently experienced more severe problems, in the last few months, since the onset of puberty.  Fun wow!  There’s not as much violence, though she does occasionally throw things, kicks holes in the wall, bangs on the doors, walls, etc.  It’s now mostly verbal abuse.  We’ve been called stupid, idiots, dummies, etc., heard her say that she doesn’t want to live here in this boring house, that we never should have gone to Estonia to get her, etc.  You name it, we’ve heard it.

I’m telling you all this to illustrate how life can be with an FAS child.  Due to the brain damage from alcohol exposure, she has learning difficulties that make it extremely difficult for her to understand things.  We have to be very literal with her and, even then, she may not understand.  Part of her diagnosis is that the two hemispheres of the brain do not communicate together like a normal child’s brain.  This causes her to get “stuck” often in her emotional state.  She will dwell on something and will just not let it go.  I’m sure normal children can be like this but multiply that by about a million and that is what you’re dealing with.  Things that would cause minor or, at the most, temper tantrums lasting a few minutes to maybe a half hour are now an hour, two hours, three hours long, sometimes longer, happening several times over the course of a day or even several days.

FAS children usually appear normal to everyone else.  Our daughter is mostly well-behaved in public, appearing very sweet and lovable and, for the most part, this isn’t far off.  When she’s not in an emotional state like I described above, she is very loving.  However, watch out if she gets “stuck”!

Unfortunately, she’s also very delayed in her learning and will always require supervision.  We’re resigned to the fact that she will never be “normal”, if that even exists anymore.  She certainly has potential but the goals we would like to see her achieve are not normal, either.  She’s 11 now but her developmental age is actually closer to 7, so she usually plays much better with children who are much younger than her.

Due to some of her habits, she tends not to make friends or keep them very easily.  Other children are easily annoyed by her.  It saddens me that she doesn’t really have any close friends.  My heart hurts for her when I think of how some of her peers have treated her and especially now going into her teen years.  If she does make friends, I worry about her being able to keep them.  She’s not very socially conscious, so it’s easy to be annoyed by her.  Been there, done that myself.  Anyway, I worry about it more than she does but, then again, she can’t comprehend it.

This is one of my longer posts in a while but it still feels like I’ve left out a lot.  If you know anyone raising an FAS child, please support them as much as possible.  They probably need it far more than you’ll ever know.  Pray for them.  Be there for them.  Listen to them.  Just be available.


4 Responses

  1. Dave:

    Great blog and I think you expressed so much. I hope a lot of other people get to read it. What a testimony to walking with God through a long and certainly challenge filled journey.

    You guys are a blessing and we love you all!!!

  2. Wow! Someone read it… 😀


  3. Dave, I read it too. Thanks for helping us understand Angelica better and get a better picture of what FAS is really about.

  4. Dave,
    My husband and I adopted two children with FASD -Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. I write a lot about it on my blog-

    I just wanted to say that I understand. This can be so difficult. But we’re all in this together and the kids are worth it. Hang in there. ~Kari

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