I would like to share with you some things about living with FASD that you may not know. This is a condition that affects hundreds of people living in Sitka. FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is a condition that shows itself across a continuum that includes barely any symptoms to many symptoms that might fall into cognitive, behavioral and even physical areas.
FASD is not connected to a person’s IQ. People who experience FASD have a range of intelligence levels just as do all of us. Rather, the condition of FASD alters the connections in the brain: the speed of responding to a question, understanding that a skill learned here still works over there, being able to think about consequences, or, one of the biggest ones – faulty memory.
You can imagine that, with a school system that is largely based on intelligence scores and test-able physical conditions, students with FASD often do not often place on the scale. From now grown FASD children, we know that, if not before, when a child with this condition starts school, they sense immediately that their classmates are able to do academic tasks that they cannot. By upper elementary grades, when the course work has move away from manipulatives to abstract thought and paperwork, a child is adrift and spending a tremendous amount of time and energy hiding what they can’t do – and that looks to us like a real behavioral problem.
Many times it’s very difficult to live with FASD and have peer friendships. If parents are unaware that their child is affected, they may easily be asking the child to do things at home that the child cannot. Do you see what can happen as we come into middle school years, school work is even more abstract and more rigorous: contact with older students increases, substances that ease the pain for a little while are more available, puberty overtakes a person and now the picture for an unsupported student who is not receiving services or even recognized is not very pretty.
It is common for youth who live with FASD to be diagnosis with a mental health condition. Medication may help the depression, the bipolar symptoms, the personality disorder but meds cannot affect or change the brain damage that is at the root of an FASD condition. It is not long now before many of these youth come into contact with juvenile justice and are sent away. In a quieter scenario, perhaps this youth, who hungers for a connection with his or her peers, finds himself becoming a parent to a child who was conceived in the presence of alcohol. This is the inter-generation connection. How able will this young adult be to advocate for this new child when something isn’t quite right. What is the future for this young parent in our community of Sitka? Could it be a better future if a person who struggles with brain differences could be supported?
Oh, I forgot one part: sometimes the anger and frustration in a person who has been struggling in isolation their entire life, erupts into some impulsive action. Then we say the perpertrator was off their medication and we call it a tragedy. Actually, it was predictable and puzzling that it doesn’t happen more often.
When you are offered opportunity to learn more about this condition called FASD, jump at the chance. The outcomes for an affected child are totally different if there are recognition and support services – not just in the school arena but also in our community. FASD truly affects each of us.
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