Today I went to a training session at our Adoption Agency all about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Before we came to adoption I had never heard of FASD, I knew that drinking during pregnancy is not advisable because “it might harm the baby”, but I wasn’t really sure why, or how much it can damage at any/every stage of pregnancy. During the adoption process I have learnt a lot more about it, and it’s actually pretty scary. I think the most scary thing is that it’s totally and 100% preventable (by not drinking at all in pregnancy, no odd glass here and there) yet there is likely to be up to 7000 babies born with FASD each year in the UK. These babies are born into all social classes/groups and not just to mothers who drink heavily during the whole of their pregnancy. A baby can be born with FASD as a result of just one binge drinking session in pregnancy. Many of the children (up to 75%) who have been in care (and who go on to be adopted) will have been affected by alcohol damage in pregnancy.
FASD is irreversible and untreatable brain damage, and can cause significant disability (physical and learning). As it affects the brain it can affect any and every area of life/function. Most of the time the affects of FASD will not become apparent until the child is of school age as this is when their educational, emotional and social struggles become more obvious. FASD can be misdiagnosed as other conditions such as ADHD as many of the characteristics are the same.
I think that when we were going through the matching (finding our child) stage, FASD was big worry for me. Everything I’d read or heard made FASD appear very scary and very bleak. I expected any child to have all of the potential difficulties, and I wasn’t sure I could manage significant health and behavioural problems. However, I had to come to terms with the fact that there is often little way of knowing at placement if they will be affected by FASD (especially if very young). Even if drinking in pregnancy is known (and often it will be denied or under estimated/reported), you can’t really predict to what extent the child may be affected. There may also be other factors (post birth trauma, neglect, attachment) that can make parenting equally challenging. Adopters are expected to accept and live with the uncertainty of what could evolve in the future. At our matching panel we were questioned about this, and our answer was that our daughter (to-be) would be our daughter, just as if she’d been born to us, and we would fight and advocate for her if we needed just like we would a birth child. We would do our best to deal with any difficulties as any parent would. I would say to any prospective adopters, don’t write off a child with possible FASD, see them as them and who they could become. PMake sure that you have a comprehensive support plan written into the adoption plan. This way it might be a bit easier to fight for it when needed. Make sure that the education system is supportive & have a good personal support network. Make sure you get really good at self care, because you’ll need it, for sure.
To find out more about FASD see: