Hyperactivity, sleeping difficulties, transitioning difficulties, aggressive behavior, the inability to empathize with others, and an apparent lack of conscience are all traits that may accompany Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is a congenital form of developmental delay that occurs in children due to the biological mother using alcohol during her pregnancy. The above traits can be frustrating if you have ever tried to care for a foster or adopted child with FAS. As a parent, you may feel isolated, tired, and even guilty. You may dread going to the principal’s office or parent-teacher conferences because it feels like you are being blamed for the child’s behavior. Of course, parents need to help the child feel empathy for others and to learn to take responsibility for his or her actions and to give a general sense of morality. But beyond that, is there any hope when raising a child with FAS? Absolutely! Here are some tips.
Change in diet and environment before medication
First, please realize that most foster children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). FAS may be misdiagnosed as ADHD, and therefore a child may be prescribed ADHD medication as a result. While this may be ok in some circumstances, a simple change in diet and environment may help your child. Avoiding foods high in sugar or artificial colors and flavors may be what she needs. Keeping a regular mealtime schedule with healthy snacks may be something she has never had before. Change will be slow in coming, but at least you won’t be literally feeding inappropriate behavior. Consult with your pediatrician.
Have you considered that some of your kiddo’s problems may be sensory in nature and not strictly behavioral? Children with FAS may have sensory deprivation and therefore need those senses re-wired. Your child may be more of a tactile learner, rather than a visual one. Therefore, he may need to get all five senses involved in his learning, not just his ears and eyes. Items and games such as Play-Doh, sand trays, Legos, and Jenga go a long way in connecting kids’ senses to their brains.
Children are natural adventurers and explorers. Yet, we ask them to sit still for 5–7 hours per day. Normal children want to move; how much more do children with FAS want it! Some of the seemingly destructive behavior of children with FAS can be attributed to simple curiosity. They want to see how things work. The problem is that after they have taken apart an item, there is no one around to teach them how to put it back together. Woodworking classes, STEM classes, drama, dance, or shop classes may be the creative outlet they need. Of course, athletics also help boys and girls get out all that pent-up energy and could help them sleep at night.
Lots of children with FAS are delayed in many areas, including education. It may be helpful to have your child evaluated and have a team develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for her. An IEP is a special plan, set by the school district, that makes modifications for children with learning disabilities. The IEP may make modifications such as untimed tests or limited/no homework. An IEP can also be developed for behavioral needs. You may also consider switching to schools that better meet your child’s educational needs. Or you may choose to hold your child back in kindergarten if she is not socially or emotionally equipped for school yet. In my opinion, being number one in the class should not be the foster parents’ expectation for their child with FAS. Social and emotional growth should be equally or more important.
Get support for yourself
Lastly, have you heard the phrase, “no man is an island”? It’s true! Don’t be a Lone Ranger! As strong a person as you may be, you cannot do it alone! Take time for yourself a little bit every day. Create a safe space (maybe that’s the bathroom!) where you can get alone time. But you will also need a “buddy system.” Find another person with whom you can chat to get things off your chest. Of course, remember to be careful about confidentiality. Lastly, get respite! Take time to get away, if only for a few hours per week, to recharge your batteries. These things are not selfish, but necessary! Remember, if you don’t have energy for yourself, you won’t have anything to give to your little one with FAS!
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.