I don’t know how many of you have ever felt as though your days are spent riding a roller coaster that is a bit out of control? If you have ever known a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD, or Reactive Attachment Disorder, RAD, then you have felt this way. The real joy can come in when they are both present in your child and let’s be honest these 2 diagnoses do tend to be found together fairly often.
The limbic sytem in the brain is the area which mainly affects our ability to attach to anyone. This is an area of the brain which is often affected with prenatal alcohol exposure, PAE. With this area damaged some children with FASD cannot attach the way we would dream of them attaching to us. These kids are at times diagnosed RAD. At times our kids with FASD are actually diagnosed RAD first. Then parents are encouraged to use parenting styles which may not be the best technique for a PAE child. It also becomes very hard for parents to know how to parent when they get multiple diagnoses which require different parenting techniques and therapy. This can cause even more stress in an already stressful day.
The thing I try to remind parents is that FASD is the umbrella. All the other diagnoses are secondary to this. They fall under the umbrella. So the fact is you have to deal with the umbrella problem in order to take care of what is underneath. If you parent to the childs abilities then the rest will follow. Now does that make it easy? Heck no! The problem is that you cannot parent out or therapy out brain damage! That is hard but it is true. See all of the ways to heal RAD aren’t going to heal brain damage. Does this mean it is hopeless? Again HECK NO! It does mean that we have to look at the origin of the issues. If it is brain damage we have to look at the fact that they may not be able to be the child that we may be dreaming of. We may have to look at their love whatever it is as the most love ever. For them it may be.
When we were adopting one of our first children with FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and RAD one of the questions we were asked by his therapist was could we love him if he could never love us back? Wow that was a really hard question to truthfully answer. Usually we hope to have a reciprocal relationship with everyone in our lives. The fact is that after 10 years he really still does not love us in a healthy way but we know he loves us with all he has to love us with. Through working with him and understanding where his brain is at (it is great to get a developmental psych evaluation on FASD kids, lots of information!) we have come a long way. We also understand him so much better. Now that isn’t to say we don’t still have a roller coaster ride at times, that would be a lie. No one can ever promise (at least not honestly) that there is any way to make this journey pain free! It is hard for the family and wow is it ever hard for the person who has FASD and/or RAD. I some days wonder if I could truly be the survivor these people are. I watch them work through things that are so painful and come out still trying.
One way to deal with the ride is to try to modify the environment. It is amazing how taking the clutter out of their environment and really structuring the environment makes an amazing difference. Looking at whether there is any Sensory Processing Disorder issues going on also can make a huge difference (get an evaluation from an occupational therapist who is trained in this.) There are ways to help on the ride and sometimes to even get off of the roller coaster for a while.