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, as we ideally wanted a young child, I had to come to terms with the fact that there is often little way of knowing if they will be affected by FASD. 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.
As with many adopted children, there is a chance our daughter may have FASD. At the time of family finding and placement she was ‘meeting all her milestones’, and still is now a year later. As adopters know, this means nothing as most FASD affected children will meet all their milestones in their early years. She has just started nursery, and seems to be getting on really well. However, it will be really interesting to see how she does in the next couple of years, will potential difficulties become more apparent? What I’ve found difficult ever since the early days of placement is over-thinking and analysing her behaviour. I’m always wondering is that normal for a 2/3year old, or is it because of ‘adoption related reasons?’ Is it ‘attachment?’ or is it ‘FASD?’ I feel that a good awareness of potential difficulties is beneficial as hopefully we can identify them early and learn how to manage them or get some support. However I think this can be exhausting and I can forget to relax and live ‘in the moment’ I’m trying to enjoy where we’re at now as I know my sweet girl is growing up so fast and we’ll never get these days back.
I am actually glad I went to the training today post placement, with a child who may (or may not, we don’t know) have FASD as I can see the person behind a potential diagnosis. I know that it’s not all doom and gloom, and that children with (or could potentially have) FASD can be and are wonderful. She is beautiful, friendly, caring and clever. She throws herself into everything with such enthusiasm. She is such an overcomer and resilient. She is loving and cuddly. She is fierce and opinionated. She has brought us so many laughs and smiles, as well as a fair few tears. I love her deeply, and will continue to do so whatever the future brings. 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…….
To find out more about FASD see: