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Parenting a Child with FASD

curious crawling babyFetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), also known as ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome’ is a medical term used to describe the permanent birth defects to a baby that have been caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. This damage is caused when alcohol reaches the fetus through the woman’s bloodstream via the placenta. The alcohol disrupts the oxygen supply to the baby which is essential for fetal development.

Sadly, parenting a child with FASD can be all too common within the domestic adoption system, and even more sadly, the effects of alcohol exposure to the child can be far-reaching and permanent. Therefore, in this article we hope to shed some light on the realities of parenting a child with FASD, and offer some helpful parenting tips to ensure your adopted child thrives with you.

Common FASD Symptoms
FASD is described as a ‘spectrum disorder’, so the effects of alcohol exposure to each unique child can be highly specific and stretch across a broad range of symptoms (or a ‘spectrum’, if you will). Many factors can also impact the severity of effects, such as the amount of alcohol consumed over time, or the developmental stage in which the most alcohol was consumed.

Some of the most common effects of FASD include:

  • Intellectual deficits
  • Learning disabilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention deficits
  • Memory deficits
  • Anger issues
  • Struggles with problem solving
  • Pre/Post-natal growth deficiencies

Common FASD Parenting Struggles
While the effects of FASD are most keenly felt between the ages of birth to 3 years old, the effects of FASD are life-long, and in regards to parenting, this can mean altering your approach accordingly. The table below shows some common examples of FASD issues and their parenting solutions for each key age marker.

Age Group Problem Solution
0-3
  • Tires when feeding (falls asleep)
  • Is easily distracted away from eating
  • Finds clothes itchy or irritating and wants to remove them
  • Bathing, brushing, and teeth cleaning are a struggle
  • Clumsy motor skills
  • Feed smaller amounts more often
  • Reduce distractions at food time, i.e. no talking, TV off
  • Opt for soft clothes, remove tags, put socks on child inside out
  • Break these tasks down into manageable sections
  • Encourage physical activity
4-12
  • Talks well, but has poor understanding
  • Poor math skills
  • Trouble socialising/making friends with children of own age
  • Use commands such as ‘show me’ or ‘tell me about…’ to check understanding
  • Provide concrete objects (such as beads to count) to help child to understand abstract concepts
  • Help teach your child social skills.
Teenage
  • Physically and sexually mature while being emotionally and socially immature
  • Easily led by others
  • Start sex education learning early, keep conversations open
  • Teach your child risky behaviours to watch for


General Parenting Advice

In general, the best thing parents of a FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Spectrum Disorder) child can do is create a place of clarity. Break tasks down into manageable sections, make checklists, and keep your instructions simple. Be prepared to repeat instructions on learned tasks on a daily basis, and most of all be patient and aware of your child’s responses.

Cases of FASD can lead to parenting challenges for adoptive parents of both domestically and internationally adopted children, but the key thing to remember is that with love and understanding even the most seemingly insurmountable of obstacles can be scaled and overcome.