Each year in the United States, up to 12,000 babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and as many as 50,000 are born with Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE) which exhibits less serious symptoms than FAS. FAS and FAE are part of several fetal-alcohol-related disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Maternal alcohol abuse is the leading cause of intellectual disabilities (formerly known as mental retardation) that often co-exist with a diagnosis of FAS or FAE. Some of the more serious physical defects in babies due to the mother’s alcohol consumption can occur even before she realizes she is pregnant.
This is all sobering news, for sure. And, for our purposes, a higher percentage of FAS and FAE-affected children are in foster and adoptive homes than in traditional homes. For instance, studies have particularly shown that an inordinate number of children adopted from the former Soviet states (Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc.) into the U.S. suffer from FAS and FAE. Here in the U.S. studies have shown—not surprisingly—that families with chronic histories of alcohol abuse produce more FAS and FAE-affected children than families who lack such a history.
But now for the hopeful news. Children born with FAS and FAE will always deal with some degree of cognitive (and possibly physical and emotional) challenges. However, when surrounded by a “village of support” – parents, therapists, doctors, the church, support groups, etc.—parents can be optimistic. Here are some helpful tools and interventions for helping your child:
STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE! As much as humanly possible, it is critical to establish and maintain a predictable schedule for your child. This helps the child to manage his stress level. Kids with FAs and FAE don’t do well when the daily schedule is unpredictable. Mealtime, chore times, and bedtime, among other important daily activities, should always be the same if at all possible.
Chores are important for any child to learn a good work ethic and self-discipline that leads to rewards. For the FAS and FAE child, it’s crucial to break those chores down into small, manageable tasks.
Plan ahead for events or times that your child may tend to get over-stimulated by sensory overload (department stores, outdoor sports events, fireworks, etc). Have a “plan B” in place to withdraw to a calmer environment.
Above all, do not take your child’s behavior personally if she is having a meltdown. Let the meltdown occur, but just be aware of everyone’s physical safety while it is occurring.
In my next blog, more helpful info for parents of FAS and FAE children . . .