I had four small biological children and a loving husband; life was good. Then God placed a two-and-a-half-year-old terror into our home. She came for a long weekend as a foster child and stayed. We adopted her three years later.
I became overwhelmed and highly stressed, and my family, over the years, became quite dysfunctional. The outside community—extended family, church, school, and friends—all had difficulty believing what I said as a parent about the new addition to our family. Our adopted child has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with a severe degree of disability. She has one of several diagnoses described by the umbrella term, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which describes a range of disabilities that may affect people whose mothers drank alcohol while they were pregnant.
The harsh realities of the effects on individuals with FASD are vast. There may or may not be physically associated signs. Common problems include learning disabilities, inability to foresee consequences, inability to learn from previous experiences, inappropriate and/or immature behavior, lack of organization, poor abstract thinking, poor adaptability, poor impulse control, poor judgment, and communication issues. As a result, people with FASD may experience secondary disabilities such as mental-health problems, inability to live independently, problems with employment, a disruptive school experience, trouble with the law, imprisonment, inappropriate sexual behavior, and alcohol or drug problems.
Our two-and-a-half-year-old is now 19. She functions at an emotional age of about 10 and a social and cognitive age of about 12. Studies show that children with FASD do no reach their full maturity until their mid- to late-thirties. All the common problems associated with the disorder are evidenced by her. We have been able to curtail some of the secondary disabilities by supervising her every moment. If she will not reach full maturity until her mid to late thirties, more supervision lies in store for years to come.
Supervision includes constant one-on-one attendance with her. We have safes in the house for keys, money, and valuables (those with FASD tend to steal); and a keyless lock on the house (to prevent others with whom she may come in contact from entering our home). In addition, she is never alone with any male siblings or younger siblings. My husband sometimes describes our life as a prison within our own home.
Statistically, there are large numbers of children affected by FASD, and the percentage of these children that come into the protection of Childrens Aid Societies is huge. We, as Christians, motivated by our beliefs and values to adopt children, are an uninformed group. I have been told that God never places us in a situation that is beyond us, but sometimes I question it. Everybody may belong, but sometimes serving needs support.
May this article help others become more aware of this invisible disease. Let us, as a Christian community, learn more about FASD and strive to support families and individuals with this devastating disability. (This article first appeared in Breaking Barriers, Issue 73, Spring 2007.)