Fostering and Adopting FAS Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Children
By Linda Dillon, Arlington, WA
We adopted 2 little boys from an orphanage in Russia. They were 4 and 6 years old when we brought them home. Now they are 9 and 11 years old. Their Russian mother died of alcoholism. It is interesting that the younger boy is much more affected. Our theory is that their Russian mother was drinking a lot more during that pregnancy. We took the younger son to the University of Washington FAS clinic. They diagnosed him as having ARND (Alcohol Related Neurobehavioral Disorder). Basically it is a new way of saying FAE. They said he has "mild FAS facial features" and his IQ was "at the low end of normal." We have found that parenting a child with this problem is very challenging.
We found the following things have helped:
1. Give only one instruction at a time. If we say, "Wash your sticky hands, and then change your clothes," our son hears only the last part, and begins to strip off his clothes with sticky hands. So break it down into two separate parts, and wait until the first one is completed before giving him the second instruction.
2. Check the child's clothing every morning. At age 9 our son still often puts on underwear, pants and shirts backwards or inside out, or his shoes on the wrong feet. He also will put on a coat to go outside when it is 90 degrees outside, or forget to put on his coat when it is snowing outside. So he needs reminding.
3. The child may become distracted and forget what they are supposed to be doing. One day we told the children to get in the car for church. Our son got distracted on the way to the car and started playing in the sandbox. We realized he was missing and someone had to go look for him.
4. The child may have late potty training, and nighttime bedwetting. Our son wet the bed until age 7, and had many daytime accidents when he was too busy playing to listen to his body signals.
5. The child will need extra reminding and supervision. He may be forgetful and lose things. Our son forgets his coat or Bible at church. He loses his coat or mittens outside. He leaves his bike or coat out all night in the rain. So before he comes inside we say, "Put your bike away." And, "If you are finished with your mittens, bring them to me." Now we take away privileges for leaving his coat or his bike out in the rain all night.
6. The child may have poor impulse control. I used to call my son "Curious George." You know the books where it says, "George knew he shouldn't (whatever) but he was curious, so he did." We spank for intentionally doing things he knows are wrong.
7. Think of the child as younger than his age. FAE children usually act younger than they are. Our son plays better with younger children than older children.
8. The child may lie about things even when you see him do it. If we see our son with his hands in Daddy's toolbox (a big no-no), and we say, "Were you playing in Daddy's toolbox?" He will say no, even though we saw him doing it. He says what he thinks we want to hear, not what really happened. We spank for lying now too, since we feel he is old enough and smart enough to know what the truth is.
9. The child may be unaware of danger, and have bad judgment about dangerous situations. When our son was almost 5 years old he rode a big wheel tricycle out into the street in front of a truck. Our son definitely saw the truck coming, and he was smiling and waving at the truck driver. The truck screeched on its brakes and stopped. We thought maybe it was because he had just come out of the orphanage. So we spent a lot of time talking about the danger of cars in the street, and the need to stay at the side of the road. But then at age 8 he purposely rode his bike out in front of our 17-year-old daughter who was coming home in her car. My daughter slammed on her brakes and stopped to avoid hitting him. Then when she got out of the car to scold him, he laughed and said, "That was fun! But you were supposed to honk!" He thought it was a big game. At age 6 he walked right up and put his hand in front of Daddy's welding torch to see if it was hot, even though Daddy told the children they must stay out of the garage while he was welding. He was badly burned. You get the idea. They must be supervised as if they were younger children.
As far as homeschooling goes:
1. It took years for our FAE son to learn his colors. We played the M & M game many times, where we put an M & M on the table, and if he could name the color he could eat it. We tried teaching colors by association like "green like the grass," "blue like our van," and "yellow like the sun," etc. He finally learned his colors at about age 8.
2. At age 9 our son still has a hard time with telling time and counting money. Today he had trouble with his math lesson which was to find 5 different ways to make 15 cents. He couldn't do it without my helping him count out real money into little piles. He can't remember which hand on the clock is the minute hand, and which is the hour hand. He also has trouble remembering that each number stands for 5 minutes. He says that if the minute hand is on the 4, then it is 4 minutes after the hour. So then we have to say, "Start at the top and count by 5's until you get to the number 4." So with a little help he can figure it out.
3. Sometimes he gets stuck in a "learning loop." One day when he was about 6 we were working on phonics. He was convinced that the "w" words started with "r." We went over and over and over it, but he still told me that "watch" and "watermelon" started with "r." His mind was stuck in a loop and kept coming back to "r." So we gave up on it and started again the next day. The next day he had no trouble at all with "w" words. So if the child is having a really hard time with something, just drop it and come back to it the next day.
4. Do not take the summer off from homeschooling! If we take just 3 weeks off, he forgets almost everything he has already learned, and we have to repeat months of schoolwork. We homeschool all year round, and take week long vacations for camping trips, grandparents visiting, Christmas, etc. But we only homeschool in the mornings, to avoid burnout. The children play outside in the afternoons.
5. He is distractible during school time too. He will look at things out the window, or look at what the other children are doing, and so I walk by and snap my fingers and say, "Do your school." That brings his attention back to his schoolwork.
6. A hands-on approach to teaching seems to work best. Science videos from the library were good, and Bible verses set to music worked well too. We like the singing video, "Hide 'em in Your Heart" by Steve Green. My children know all the Bible verses on the video tape.
Well, this is all I can think of right now. I don't want to paint a really negative picture. Our FAE son is funny and happy most of the time. The younger children are delighted when he makes funny faces and tells them stories and makes up songs.