Clearing Shelves Stacked with Someone Else’s Dreams

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By SB_FASD

Oh sweet child, today you asked to clear out your room. You have been saying for weeks that you wanted to do this. I kept finding excuses. I didn’t want to face what I knew was coming. But you dove into the project. Knowing how this sort of task can easily overwhelm you, I calmly said I’d help, even though it was early and I was tired, un-caffeinated and unconvinced.

And soon there we were, knee deep in the tomorrows I had thought you’d have as you swept away my earlier visions of the way your future might unfold. The future I was creating for you in my mind, before we understood your FASD.

“You bought me too many books.” Yes, I suppose we did. I said, “I know, but we used to read them together.” You replied, “I don’t like books with too many chapters, too many words.” I know that now. You suggested we could get more workbooks. You wanted to keep exercise books. “I have too many copies of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” you said. Because, my son, at one time you were completely and utterly engrossed in Alice, you fixated on the fantasy world. We watched movies. We read books. We watched an Alice ballet. But okay, now I see you are ready to move on.

“These books are baby-ish,” you said, sweeping away the books about bugs, about colds, about how children lived in Anglo-Saxon days. The books with pictures that we spent hours looking at, making up stories when reading was too hard. The kids’ joke books you loved but never really ‘got’. This isn’t the first time we have culled these shelves. Some of these books are ones we thought might give you some important info in a more accessible way. But you’re right. They are for much younger kids.

Some books stayed – Spy Kids, all the playbills from the many plays you have seen, a collection of the later Biff and Chip books, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. And of course Amelia Bedelia. She is so literal and she tries so very hard, just like you. You still laugh when she gets herself into a pickle every time.

We understood at a point that you do better with chunks of information, accompanied by visuals. So we have a large collection of DK Eyewitness Books that you and your brother used to page through – covering everything from the weather to history to the Titanic (that one you kept).

Book by book, I had to bite back my regrets. All those Dr Suess books that I adore but that I know now must have completely confused you with their nonsense words and silly pictures. I held in my arms some of the great children’s literature I loved as a child, trying to decide if I am ready to let go of my dreams of reading these with you, knowing I must.

And the toys and games. “I hate puzzles.” I flashed back to so many times we tried to do puzzles with you as a young child. You would get so frustrated. You had to try the piece every which way until it eventually fit. Even if it was a triangle into a square hole. You kept at it, determined. You did eventually get there. I had no idea then how your brain struggles to think abstractly. That practical trial-and-error approach was you trying your absolute hardest. A reminder for me of the way you learn best – hands on, experientially. I stared at the newer 120- and 200- piece puzzles, agreeing we could get rid of those now.

Today you were prioritising you. Rightly so.

I am proud of you. It can’t have been easy to move me into action. I am sorry it had to take such sheer determination on your part. I should have been listening more closely.

But I would be lying if it didn’t admit that I spent the day grieving in a way I haven’t done in a long time. I spent the day missing those earlier years when it was easier to get you to do what I thought was best. I spent the day second guessing myself, as I accepted again that I don’t always know best. You have always shown me what you need. How hard it is sometimes to listen.

We say it all the time, that young people with FASD are often socially and emotionally half of their chronological age: “stage, not age.” But these teenage years are tricky. That ‘rule’ doesn’t apply evenly and it’s not consistent. It’s dependent on lots of things. In a day you can go from being quite surprisingly mature to acting like a much, much younger child. Sometimes your insights catch my breath. Other times, I feel fear when I have to repeat something very basic that I know you once knew. I really don’t know everything that you need these days. You are a glorious mix.

You are all about music, electronics. You have taken on board the idea that sensory items help you, so we kept a shelf free for the slime. Today, in a new toy store full of toys, you chose a sensory bed tent. It has a light inside. And a unicorn on the outside. You still want us to create a stage in your room with curtains that open and close with a string. We will try. I am not convinced you really wanted to get rid of the dreamcatcher and the emoji pillows. I was surprised you asked for us to bring the Lego back in your room. Then I grew worried as storm clouds gathered when you wanted to recreate a Lego schoolhouse that you long ago smashed apart. The pieces are mixed in with thousands of other Lego pieces now, making it unlikely we can recreate that model.

So, where is all of this going?

When we first started pulling apart your room, my original plan was to put those DK Eyewitness Books on a bookshelf in another room. But I have been staring at them long and hard. When you want to know something, you google it. You learn from YouTube videos. This is a real strength you have, your ability to navigate online. You are not ever going to go to those books for information. I get that. I have to let them go.

I have to let it all go.

I love you so very much. I know these things mean nothing in the long run. You are doing so very well, as you learn to understand your body and your sensory needs, as you show us your strengths that come from having a mind that works differently.

You have a rack full of sparkly dress up clothes. You love performing.  Your Christmas list is full of special lights, music and technology. Your dreams are in some ways larger than life. But who among us dares to limit you? You are so talented, who knows where they may lead? So, yes, I will sweep clear those shelves so you have room for disco lights and microphones and amplifiers and speakers.

I promise I will try to remember that in your 14-year old body is a unique and growing young soul that needs to feel comfort and nourishment in the items that surround him, whose room should not be a place where he looks around and feels inadequacy in failing to meet someone else’s vision.

It had never occurred to me that you saw those things in your room as my failure to understand you and what you really like.

Dear amazing you, thank you once again for teaching me what I needed to learn.

(Now, how do we get rid of all of this stuff out of our bedroom, where it landed throughout the day, leaving me with no path to walk?)

Be an Adopter

Be an adopter!

By MB_FASD

It’s National Adoption Week and the theme this year is “The Adopter”. Since that’s me, and my wife, and also my mum, I thought I’d write something for the occasion. Hopefully, some of you out there thinking of adopting will find a spark here, some inspiration that will confirm that for you adoption is the right thing to do. I really do hope so. Adoption is a wonderful experience. For you. For your child. And for all involved. As long as it’s done right.

First of all, do it for the right reasons. Be sure you’re not wanting to ‘save’ a child. You’ll hear from friends and family that you’ve done a wonderful, charitable thing by giving a home to a needy child. If that’s your reason, don’t adopt. Adopt because you want a family, or you want to complete your family. Because you want the love and joy a child will bring into your life and have plenty of your own to share.

Secondly, understand that adoption has changed from the old days, when those of us who were adopted as babies were likely to have been given up by single mothers shamed into allowing us to be adopted by the dark, somewhat unforgiving social mores of the time. We were largely newborns, healthy and (at least in my case, handsome and adorable 😊). Those kids available for adoption now are still adorable, but they’re unlikely to be newborns and their pathway to adoption is different than mine. They will have suffered neglect, early life trauma, may well have a disability and/or other health issues. They may have an attachment disorder. Or, and here’s why this blog is writing about adoption, they may well have a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Statistics on FASD are not good amongst looked after children up for adoption. The condition is very much under-reported, under-diagnosed and poorly understood or recognised by midwives, social workers, GPs and even Paediatricians. A study in Peterborough showed that 75% of children available for adoption had been exposed to alcohol in utero. That doesn’t mean the kids have an FASD, but the risk is there, and it is significantly higher than for the population as a whole.

As an adopter, bringing a child with FASD into your life will be a huge change. Our son has brought music and performance into our home. He takes us to places we would otherwise not go. He has brought the widest smiles of joy. He has taught us much about ourselves and our capabilities to care.

But it isn’t easy.

Kids with FASD have executive functioning deficits which means they constantly need help to organise themselves through life. Many have learning disabilities. They have sensory needs that are difficult to meet. They can meltdown with a depth and severity that is extremely hard to manage. Doctors fail to recognise the condition. Social workers don’t write up maternal alcohol consumption in notes, making diagnosis harder later on. Therapists of all kinds don’t know about FASD and struggle to adapt their services for our kids.

To be an adopter, you will need deep reserves of resilience and humour and love to do everything your child will need, and everything your wider family will need. You will have to possess a desire to learn all you can to support a young person, and to show your family, friends and the professionals in education, medicine and social work how to support him and you.

Society also needs to better support adopters who make the decision to adopt a child with FASD, or one who may well have the condition (you might not know for sure since FASD is so under-diagnosed). To be an adopter, you’ll become a campaigner for recognition of FASD in the educational system. You’ll become an advocate for the wider needs of families with kids with SEN, things like more respite breaks (or indeed access to respite breaks at all!!) and for the reasonable adjustments all institutions should make for kids with a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. Sounds scary, but it’s doable. You’ll be a better parent for meeting the challenge.

So, be an adopter of a child with an FASD. Go into it with eyes open. Read up about FASD. Join support communities like FASD UK’s closed group on Facebook. Get materials from NOFAS-UK and other groups working on the condition.

And if, after a good hard consideration of the idea, you think you’re up for it don’t let four letters and all they mean deprive you of the love a child with an FASD can bring into your home, or stop you giving them the loving home they need to thrive.

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For more information:
National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome-UK (NOFAS-UK)
Adoption UK

FASD, Teens & Technology – What’s a Parent to Do?

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By MB

A theme kept popping up at our support meeting recently. It provoked, as it always does, a lively series of comments with distinct points of view. Do you let your kid/s have access to technology. How much access?

It’s something we thought long and hard about long before our younger son was diagnosed with FASD. His older brother loves his tech. He’s a good programmer. He’s a skilled gamer. His understanding of tech is strong and his interest high. So little brother was introduced to computers early on. And we had decisions to make about screen time.

Managing kids’ access to technology is a difficult question for all parents. How much time to allow your youngsters on their phones, on games consoles, watching TV? When do you let them have a phone? How do you keep them safe online? How to manage social media when bullying, sexual exploitation, financial fraud and other issues are so rife?

How much harder are these things to manage with an especially vulnerable group of kids like those with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders? How can you keep a child safe online when their ability to read social cues is, at best, extremely limited? How can you prevent a child becoming obsessed with an app or a game when repetitive behaviours are a known feature of their condition? How can you keep a child from seeing inappropriate videos when their ability to search for material and use a device far exceeds their capacity to understand what they might be about to watch? Is it wise to give hundreds of pounds worth of phone, or tablet, or laptop or console to a child who can suffer from meltdowns at frustration and risk breaking them?

Neither the questions nor the answers are simple, and they vary child by child and across family circumstances. There is no right answer. But, for what it’s worth, here’s how we have managed things with our 14-year-old with FAS.  First of all, we gave him simple rules: not too much skin, no rude words, no violence no talking with people you don’t know in real life. By and large, for the moment these still work. He explores the edges of the rules, but doesn’t jump in and swim past red lines. He internalises what is right and wrong in a fairly rigid way, and has done this also with online life. Even to the extent that, when watching his favourite band Little Mix, he won’t watch videos of them dancing “dressed in porn”, as he puts it. (Not quite sure where he picked up that word, probably an internet safety class at school.)

So, as long as he follows the rules, we let our youngster have more access than many would think is wise. But for him it works. It isn’t perfect. He has, in frustration or in the midst of meltdown for other reasons, broken phones, tablets and bluetooth speakers galore. This is the easy bit. The organic consequence when something gets broken is that he is without it for as long as it takes to replace it. And we don’t hurry replacements. Everything carries replacement insurance. Either the Amazon Fire for Kids (which they really do replace without asking why) or just phone insurance that pays for the next when a phone is broken. The consequence of delayed replacement is important, it follows naturally from the breakage and emphasises that this is something that can be accepted as resulting from a symptom of FASD, but not otherwise. He broke a laptop two years ago and we are just now thinking about replacing it.

For us the type of device acceptable was also easy. All of them. Any of them (within our budget). They each have a purpose, a different use and each can be valuable in its way. The Wii is now an ageing console, but its games still have a place in our son’s life. They tend to less violent, less scary – much more suitable for him than many of those on offer on other consoles. From the simplicity of Wii Sports, to the deductive reasoning needed to complete Lego Harry Potter or one of the Hannah Montana games, it’s amazing to watch as his thought processes strengthen as a result of puzzling out parts of games involving characters he loved. These were, genuinely, life skills he was learning. For fun, he learned to make movies with one game and to sing his favourite songs with others. The Wii will probably soon have to be replaced with a Switch, but its role will be the same.

His tablet, restricted to appropriate content, was a real boon too – before it was broken. (Still not replaced.) For our son, a cartoon like Tom and Jerry can be a tool for building social awareness. He showed us a picture of an angry character with a bright red face – “look, that’s what I feel like sometimes!”. He learns social lessons from his favourite YouTubers. Their extreme actions, looks or sounds show him the boundaries of acceptability. He watches things time and time and time again, figuring out what is socially acceptable and what is not. He also made hundreds of videos of himself making faces, saying things different ways – we believe this was his way of exploring how to act in situations. For a kid who finds social cues hard to read, this kind of education is vital. He doesn’t really watch much TV. He has a mini-DVD player and watches movies at his own pace, in his own way.

From his phone he gets music. The love of his life. Streamed music. He uses it to calm himself. In an evening after school he will rock in his bed to loud, loud music. Calming himself. Erasing the stress of the day. Building down from potential meltdowns. It matters so much. The phone also works to connect him to friends. Being with someone can be hard for him. Sometimes joint activities don’t go well. Social situations can be hard to navigate. Rigid thinking can bring tensions. Kids that both have multiple disabilities can easily misunderstand each other. Being with them across a distance of miles on FaceTime can be easier. We hear him joking, laughing, talking, enjoying friendships. It doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. One friend couldn’t understand that calling repeatedly as late as midnight wasn’t ok. But, overall, it’s a tool that helps build relationships. It could be dangerous. While he doesn’t (yet) break the rule about linking with strangers, he has been very happy when social media accounts linked to popstars or TV personalities have sent him messages, after he left messages for them. The risk of inappropriate contact is there. And for a child with delayed social development, the risk is heightened. So we talk to him about who he is talking to, and we have access to his devices. We work at keeping him safe.

It’s not just at home that technology helps. In school, the use of a netbook in lessons helped our son to focus before lessons. Typing allowed him to get ideas from his head to the page in a way that handwriting never did. Suddenly, instead of a line he could write a paragraph, as he could type quickly enough to express himself, whereas he couldn’t hold an idea in his head long enough to write it out with a pen.

And this is the future too. The role of technology in our society is growing. It surrounds us, penetrates our lives in ever increasing ways. He will use phone apps to manage his life. He will be able to speak to his phone to find recipes, generate a shopping list, buy groceries online, do other shopping. He already relies on YouTube videos for instructional videos for everything from slime to hairstyles to recipes. Microsoft Office has built in voice recognition software he’ll be able to use to read documents, write them, send emails and more. He will be able to manage his prescriptions and doctors’ appointments through an app, we do already. We are at the beginning of mindfulness apps that help people manage stress and anxiety and contribute to reducing the possibility of meltdown. All this will help him build a measure of independence in adult life that would otherwise be impossible. The opportunities are, at present, seemingly almost limitless.

We’re not naïve. We are aware of the dangers. We guide our son to use online services and entertainment as safely as possible. We know that for many the use of screens is a huge problem. That obsession with online content is a real risk. That there are predators. That some are unable to have access to games with in-game payment safely. We know that what I have described is our reality, not that of others. If things change, we will change our rules.

We have chosen to work hard to help our son access technology because for our kids technology is the future. It can help them navigate life with FASD. It can be a massive support. They will have to deal with it as it becomes omnipresent in all walks of life. Our job is to help our son do so safely, to help him thrive. In the meantime, if you stumble across his YouTube channel, give him a like and leave a positive comment, it means everything in the world to him.

Shifting Sands

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By SB

Once upon a time a little boy used to struggle mightily when going on family holidays. He would become so bewildered by the many changes his brain could not process that he would rail against the world, against us. Strong and fierce in his moments of distress, a sadness shadowed us at these times when we were supposed to be most happy. It was heart wrenching. Deflating. Scary. Lonely. But this year, something magical happened. Sometime between then and now, our little guy passed some unknown threshold. He powered up to the next level, became better armed and was more ready for the challenges.

Yes. We had two whole weeks of a lovely and soul-refreshing holiday at the seaside.

It was spectacular. Glorious. An experience I won’t ever forget.

There was a sign at the top of the steep hill we had to walk down to get to the water. “Apologies, beach steps are temporarily closed due to shifting sands. Please use the alternative beach access.” This in a nutshell explained how we got here.

Our son has a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). His brain wiring was affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Like many with his condition, he finds it really hard to control his impulses when he’s under stress, when he processes new information and when his senses are overloaded with unusual sights, smells, textures. In other words, going away on holiday is the perfect storm for a person facing the cognitive challenges of FASD.

Some might think the reasons why our holiday went well this year were just because he’s older now and because we went back to a familiar place. Yes, these things helped immensely. But thinking that was the secret to success would be ignoring the two years of hard work he has done since our last holiday to better understand himself and his needs. It would be ignoring the way we took on board advice and structured this holiday to maximise our chance of a positive outcome.

The game-changer is there are teams of experts helping him, helping us – at the specialist school he now attends, in counselling services for those with intellectual disabilities and with the help of experts who work with him on issues related to gender nonconformity – all of which is coordinated under the guidance of a paediatrician who understands how his FASD and co-occurring conditions all inter-relate. He was diagnosed at 10 and in the time since we as a family have learned alternative strategies via our interactions with experts and others with lived experiences via online and in-person support groups. We have tossed traditional parenting out the window and have tried to create an environment where our little one can relax enough to begin to grow. It has taken years and years to get here.

While each day of our holiday had its challenges and while we have a long way to go, the point is – we did it. We listened. We worked hard. We adapted. And yes, we did it!

I can’t tell you how I want to sing that from the rooftops, now, before we settle back into our less-than-perfect existence. I wish I could send that message back to myself a few years ago, for those days when I thought it would never change. When I looked into the future and all I could see was doubt and fear as to what the tomorrows might hold for our little one.

I want to send out a message to others who might be feeling depressed, like I was then. I want to say, “Hang on. Rattle the system. Make the professionals SEE your child. It’s not easy but it’s possible. If we could do this, so can you. Stay strong. Stay positive. Feed the future with your positivity and belief it can come true. Find a network. Build your support system. Dig deep. Celebrate the successes. They WILL come.”

Special needs parents up and down the country are struggling right now to keep their heads above water, to stay optimistic in the face of some of the most daunting days anyone can experience. There is too little available for children with additional needs during the holidays, too little respite for families who are trying to do the right thing but who need help. For a long time, our son was able to fit into other mainstream summer programmes but as he is getting older the options are less obvious. Facing the lack of an appropriate summer programme for someone with FASD, we are creating a pilot project with some related organisations to see if we can change that too.

What makes me really sad is that the few services that exist function mostly on an emergency basis and too many with FASD are denied access to these services. Our son who had been running away from home, playing with lighters, refusing school, destroying his room and his belongings has now learned some coping strategies and those behaviours are no longer a part of our lives. But he’s still just 14 and there is a long road ahead. Now that he is at a calmer place, surely NOW is the time all these therapists and experts should work more intensively than ever with him to teach strategies for a lifetime – now, when he’s most receptive to learning them. We beg them, please don’t spit him out because he is coping better. His brain damage is not going away. Every bit of support, every coping mechanism he can learn will help him contribute to society in ways big and small. His voice matters in a world that too often refuses to hear or see people who are different. Help us help him.

Everyone is focused on child mental health, at least that’s what the sound bites say. As part of that, let’s really focus on making support available over the long-term for those with FASD. The laughter of a child on a holiday is such a basic rite of passage, but for some it is hard-earned and to be celebrated. Thanks to all who got us to this place and here’s to better tomorrows for all who are struggling to make these summer days shine. The sands do shift, but still it is possible to find alternate routes. And to find joy along the way.

(This post also appeared 15 August 2018 in the Huffington Post UK under the title, “Shifting Sands and Special Needs Parenting”.)

 

 

Holidays Are Not Vacations

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By SB

“Holidays are not vacations. Try not to confuse the two.”

This advice was passed along to us at some point way too late in our parenting adventures. We are still trying to absorb this wisdom.

We have been there. The over-scheduled holidays. The overstimulating holidays. The attempting to act like all is ‘normal’ holidays. The ‘we-really-need-this-so-we-are-going-to-try-this-even-if-it-kills-us’ holidays. The ‘ready-to-go-home-after-two-days’ holidays.

Every kid loves to go to a theme park, right? Every kid loves to play at the beach, right? Every kid loves the excitement of a road trip, right? I did when I was a kid. They were some of the best memories of my life. I want our children to have those memories too. And so goes the record in my head.

Until there you are, too many miles down a highway with a child in full meltdown in a car. Kicking, screaming, throwing things. You stop at the first stop you see – a place advertising a garden café…and then you see this garden doesn’t have grass but little stones. Your 12-year old fully dysregulated child picks up hands full of them and you really don’t know what to do as they are sailing through the air while other customers stare at your horrible parenting.  Or there’s the time you stop because driving is no longer safe and your little one is walking with purpose along the side of a highway, refusing to get back into the car, for miles with your husband slowly creeping the car forward behind you both. Or the time when he threw a big rock so hard outside a 400-year old cottage your extended family members had kindly rented, hitting your husband in the face and you had to run off after your child to make sure he didn’t get lost in this new place while your husband was still bleeding.  Or the time he went missing at a cliffside theatre and you found him, just moments before they called the helicopter search team. He was in your car blasting music and rocking – he had found a quite space and was using calming techniques you had taught. People wondered why he was not punished that day that scores of people were looking for him. You were just glad he was alive and you let him see you were proud of him for finding a calm space.

These are just a few snapshots. For those raising children with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, most of us have these stories. FASD makes it hard for our little ones to adapt to new places, to process all the alien input and to understand the new expectations. They become overloaded by sensory input and anxieties to a point where they simply can’t do it anymore. And then wham. We have liftoff. Or for some, it’s shutdown.

I keep remembering a work trip I took to Japan. I was traveling by train, but something was wrong with my ticket. I got stopped at a gate and there was no one there who could answer my question – none of the signs were understandable to me. No one in authority spoke English. It was all completely confusing and overwhelming. The only thing that kept me from panicking was one person I knew who just waited for me on the other side of the gate. He said he wasn’t going anywhere until he knew I was okay. He didn’t care if he missed his train. He reassured me it would be okay. I remember that day and I try to be like that for my son when I know he’s having trouble. To let him know I am there and waiting for him, to reassure him this moment will pass, we’ll find a way forward.

Children with FASD need structure. They need to know what to expect. One year, long before our son’s FASD diagnosis, there was a blackboard in one of the cottages we rented. Our little one started writing a timetable each day in chalk, just as if we were in school. He was showing us what he needed, just as he always has done. We didn’t get it. We didn’t listen to his needs. We had a truly dangerous car trip one day during that holiday, where he kicked so hard he almost made contact with his dad’s head as he was driving. Now we print out pictures of where we are going. We show him on maps. We go back to the same place. We will never repeat the disaster of the trip where we stayed in five different places so we could do touristy things that we thought would be fun. How wrong we were. Of course, cash-strapped, we were only too aware that we were paying hundreds of pounds for the disaster that was unfolding. That fuelled our stress, his stress, the negative cycle. We needed to learn to slow down. To keep it simple. To take cues from our son with FASD.

We have finally learned just how anxious our son gets in a car. Now that he has the words to tell us, it’s humbling. No wonder he was melting down in the cars. I would be too if every unexpected swerve, every beep, every light, every car heightened my danger alert, if even the direction of the windscreen wipers mattered to me. This year, we are trying something new. Every other family member has already driven to our destination at the tip of Cornwall. Tomorrow, my son and I will take the train.

It will either be the best idea ever or it will be a disaster.

Ever hopeful, I am counting on a win.

We also for the first have one of his younger friends staying with us, so hopefully it will help to have someone to play with. Her mum is staying with us too, someone who ‘gets’ our son and his needs.

I also did something a bit bonkers. I have chopped my hair and it’s dyed bright pink and blue. I was too hot on too many London commutes. I thought this might be good for a bit of fun for the holidays. But walking through town today I realised there is a side benefit. People are staring at me and my iridescent hair and ignoring my son’s long hair and skirt for once. Interesting indeed.

This morning, while the first pictures started appearing on social media of dad, brother and friends at the beaches in Cornwall, we were sitting in a familiar local café in our hometown. I was trying to ignore the side glances that my son didn’t notice. I was thankful that at least he was eating, even if it was a burger at 10.00 am with cheese on it, which he’s not supposed to have due to a milk protein allergy (I weighed the slight tummy upset versus the protein boost and took a chance). And as we chatted, the anxieties started pouring out. He doesn’t want to go. He wants to stay here. He’s been to this one town in Cornwall too many times. There are no shops there. It’s boring. He needs to stay in another place. The last place he stayed in Cornwall with his school had ants in it. He’s never staying there again. We need a schedule. How are we getting there? Did Dad bring his stuff too? Am I sure? How are we getting to the train station? That’s too long on a train. Let’s just stay here. What about the dog? What if she’s lonely. And on. And on. And on.

Honestly, what I really need is a vacation. With umbrellas in icy cool drinks. The sound of nothing but lapping water at the pool’s edge. Sleeping late. Going nowhere. Just silence. Peace. I really need a break. I admit that.

But I am still glad for a holiday. I know there will be moments of exhilaration by the sea. I know that forbidden Cornish ice cream will bring a huge smile to our son’s face and that might just make up for the sensory discomfort of sand between toes and gooey sun cream (and tummy upsets from too much milk). I pray (even as I am not the praying type) that this time we will have fun. And maybe, just maybe as a family we will relax. I am hoping I come back replenished.

What I will never do is blame our son if this goes wrong. Because it will not be his fault.

He has already expressed his worries and his concerns. There is no doubt, this holiday is about me, about us, our needs and our desires. It is simply not fair to blame him if he is unable to cope. I will give him every tool I know how to help him, but this…this is on me if it goes pear-shaped.

And if it works as we hope it will, it will be because he has excelled himself with immense effort and increasing skill at self-regulation. If we do indeed have a good holiday it will be due to the understanding of all around us, to the structure we have put in place to give him the best chance to succeed. It’s not just going to ‘happen’. This new approach has been in the planning phases for two years, since our last holiday and all the work we have done over many slow days trying to build up to a place where he is able to state his needs and suggest strategies to cope. It’s a work in progress.

Stay tuned.

And if you see someone on a train or a plane or in a cafe or convenience station who is struggling. Just keep walking. And give them all a little smile of encouragement.

But if the mum has bright blue and pink hair, please stop and say hi.


 

Check out this Oregon Behavior Consultation video for tips on preparing for holidays for those with FASD. They also have a holiday planning worksheet. It’s focused on winter holidays, but the advice is golden for any time of the year.

 

 

 

Always On – Hypervigilance and FASD

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By SB_FASD

Hypervigilance is a term that keeps cropping up lately.

I first used it in consciously last month in a meeting with two therapists where my husband and I were discussing our son when he wasn’t present. I was relaying a story about going through charity shops in the town with our little one with FASD. I was talking about how I feel the need to be hypervigilant to anticipate how to deflect the negatives that might come his way – perhaps due to how he is dressed or the way he might be acting. It’s like trying to extend a big protective bubble around my son as he walks through the world, worried that it could pop at any moment.

Mirriam-Webster defines hypervigilance as “the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat.” Yep. That’s me.  It can be linked to post-traumatic stress disorders but that is not what affects me. I just live nearly all of every day in a super alert state, listening, anticipating, waiting, trying to deflect a negative outcome or some situation from spiralling into a fully heightened scene. An article, “Hypervigilance in Autism Parents” struck home for many of us raising children with FASD.

I do not relax. Or very rarely. I realised THIS is why I wake up and watch mindless TV in the middle of the night – it’s the only time at home when I can relax. Everyone is asleep. There is no chance of things going from zero to 100 at 3.00 am.

I am not writing this to complain. It makes me empathise. This feeling that I have is nothing compared to what my son experiences. Yes, I am constantly anticipating, analysing, assessing where things are and where they are going – living on edge of a possible meltdown coming from who-knows-what stimuli next. It is exhausting. It’s not a very nice way to be. How I would like to kick back my heels and sit in the garden with a good book and just relax. This is not going to happen. I’ll survive.

But my 13-year old son, he lives in this sort of state multiplied by 100 or 1,000 times.  His anxieties are through the roof. At different times someone’s breath on a strawberry panics him. A buzzing fly or a pan on the stove sizzling too loudly or a low-petrol reading in the car or whatever it is at that moment – things I do not even notice – can raise his internal alarms so high that he cannot contain himself, let alone explain his fears or his worries. His behaviours escalate and he loses all impulse control. It can be quick and forceful and things can be smashed in the process.

He has been getting some counselling lately that is helping. He’s working with therapists who help him have the words and awareness to identify how he is feeling, to spot when his anxieties are increasing, to put in place strategies for each of those different stages. Where once he only knew two states of being – happy or angry – now he has been learnings there are steps along the way and things he can do (and that we can all do) to help him move down that ladder.

It’s not rocket science – and it is absurd that these sorts of tools are not made more available early on when a child starts showing these sorts of problems. And it is really tragic that many if not most families affected by FASD are not able to access these kind of therapeutic settings that can really change things around.

This week, I have been learning that the therapies help us as much as they help our son by giving us all a common language.

We’ve had a bit of a rocky road this week. Our son’s school went off timetable for a special “Arts Week.” They are doing absolutely amazing things. But it pushed our guy to the edge, if not over. We had a car ride to an evening event at the school where he was starting to become dangerous – the first journey like this in a very long time. In between cursing and bad language and taking off his seat belt and throwing things, he was telling us “I can’t handle it.” “I’m too tired.” “I just want to go home.” “I want to play with slime, that will help me.” In the past we would have kept going, pushing him too far. This night, we honoured him – we listened to what he was saying. We turned around. We went home. He played with slime. He danced in a body sock. We didn’t have a meltdown.

I felt oddly good.

What’s the point of encouraging him to use his words to tell us how he feels if we don’t act on that and show him that his opinion and feelings matter? He identified his feelings, stated his needs, came up with a solution for how to self-regulate. Progress!

The next night, again after a day off their normal schedule, our son was becoming dysregulated at home. I was frustrated, tired, alarmed that things were starting to fly – always worried about breakage, but also fighting that sense of disappointment and fear for the future that bubbles up when I am feeling weaker than usual.  I lost it. I heard myself saying, probably too loudly, “That’s enough! I am stressed. If I had a scale of 0-6 like you do, I would be a 7 right now. I am going to explode. I need quiet. We are both going to sit here, quietly. Don’t say anything. Just sit!”  And you know what? He did. I ignored what others might have interpreted as smirks, because I could see these facial expressions were signs he was nervous and trying to register this unexpected new information. I sat there on his bed with him without either of us saying a word for about 30 minutes – he was on his phone, I was on my computer. Every once in a while, he’d move his leg a bit closer to mine for a scratch. And the scene that had been horrible became calm.

I sat there thinking about what had been staring me in the face – we need to use these tools too for our own stress levels. To build a common language with our son. Why should he be the only one in the family with a stress chart with identified strategies for how to cope? He needs a guidebook for how to help us as well. He is the one with trouble reading others – of course he needs a road map too. I can’t assume he understands instinctively what I am feeling.

I have been learning more about theory of mind. It’s tied up with developmental stages – when a person begins to understand that other people experience the world differently than they do. Some people with various disabilities struggle with this.

I remember our son on the phone when he was smaller, holding up something that my husband couldn’t see on the other end of the audio call – “Here Dad, it’s this one.” One of my favourites was “No Mummy, not there – scratch where it’s itchy.”  He didn’t get it that I couldn’t know where the itch was. Lately I have been increasingly direct with him, saying things others might think are “obvious”. “I am tired and I am going to bed now. Please don’t ask me again tonight for another snack.” Telling him what I am feeling and therefore what I expect from him is working.

I have been taking cues from adults with FASD who find help in mindfulness. It helps me with the hypervigilance to recognise that I have the power in a moment– any moment – to find something to focus on, if only for a short time, to help me ground myself, to slow my breathing. I hope our son will eventually learn more about these techniques. But in the meantime, I can invite him to come sit by the dog and feel how soft her ears are. I can comment on how soft the breeze feels on my face. Or point out how very blue the sky looks. Building blocks. Little moments lead to big breakthroughs. Step by step. I believe we have to see progress and celebrate it, no matter how small.

As I am realising I am in a hypervigilant state most of the time, I am using this understanding to help me better understand my son. I am trying to use the tools we are learning to help him understand not just himself but others too.  But I guess I need to do more to understand me too and what I need. So, yes, the word of the week is “hypervigilance.”

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Some additional resources:

Emotional thermometers and other printable resources from here (there are lots of interesting resources on this site):  http://do2learn.com/…/SocialSkil…/Stress/StressTriggers.html

This ‘brain house’ model is also helpful to teach children about the ‘upstairs brain’ and the ‘downstairs brain’: https://www.heysigmund.com/how-to-teach-kids-about-the-bra…/

 

 

 

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This Parent-Advocate Celebrates Messy Trails and Snails

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By SB_FASD

Our son’s taxi was late. He was all ready for school. He had in his bag photo albums from when he was a baby and a clipping of a news story about our local FASD support group. I had work to do, I was feeling pressure. Our son hadn’t eaten breakfast again. We were waiting outside so the dog would not become further excited. It was raining. I was in my pjs. I wasn’t in my mum-of-the-year mindset. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in the moment.

And then my son noticed three snails.

They were climbing a post by our door. Three different sizes. The biggest one (the mum, he said) was lagging behind.  We stood there, my son and I, for nearly 30 minutes discussing those snails, where they were going, what they were seeing, what they might be thinking. I hate snails. But on this morning, I loved them and was fascinated by them, totally engrossed by them – right there with my son. In his moment. I even learned something watching them come out of their shells when making what seemed like lateral moves around corners from up high.

Sometimes we don’t know where we are going or what it takes to get there. But you do what you have to do. You improvise even if you are not sure exactly where things are headed. You just keep moving.

The taxi came and our little one went off to school. I started thinking about mindfulness and the advice we often receive to simply (!) slow down. I was thinking about the many times our son shows us that due to his FASD, he is mindful of things I often don’t notice. I thanked him before he went to school for being so observant. I told him without him there I never would have noticed those snails today.

I have been busy. Good busy. But busy. The kind of busy that means you go to work early and miss seeing your kids off to school. The kind of busy that when you come home from work, your face is still in the computer when the kids are looking for a chat or the dog wants a cuddle or your husband’s in the kitchen cursing the stove yet again while trying to feed us all. The wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-do-more kind of busy. And it was worth it. Probably if I had it to do over, I would do all of that again. I will do all of that again.

But I came across this quote in the midst of this week and it spoke to me about how we define our terms.

I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay. 

Sometimes, this is my busy –
and I will not apologize for it.”
                ― Brittin Oakman

 There are lots of ways to be ‘busy.’

There was another piece doing its rounds in social media this week, by Alethea Mshar “Dear Special Needs Mom Who Feels Invisible”:

I want you to know that I see you…I know you feel invisible, like nobody notices any of it. But I want you to know I notice you. I see you relentlessly pushing onward. I see you keep choosing to do everything in your power to give your child the best possible care at home, in school, at therapy and the doctor. What you’re doing matters. It’s worth it.

On those days when you wonder if you can do it another minute, I want you to know I see you. I want you to know you’re beautiful. I want you to know it’s worth it. I want you to know you aren’t alone. I want you to know love is what matters most, and you have that nailed.

And on those days when you have breakthroughs, those times when the hard work pays off and success is yours to cherish, I see you then too, and I am proud of you. Whichever day today is, you’re worthy, you’re good and I see you.

This week some of us brought the voices of many of us to Parliament and to the Royal Society of Medicine. We stood side by side with each other and with medical, educational and epidemiological experts to share the truths that we have learned in our combined experiences as people with FASD, birth parents, adoptive parents, foster carers. We are strong, we are warriors, we are standing firm. Hear Our Voices was the simple but powerful message we carried with us from the thousands in our networks.

There have been some unexpected moves, some lateral moves. Times when we have come out of our shells and out of our comfort zones. We are not entirely sure where we are going. We sometimes feel like we are too busy trying to simply keep breathing that we are not accomplishing what we hope to accomplish. Sometimes it is enough to be seen. But the goal in the end is to be heard and for the messages we are saying to be acted upon.

My son lives in the moment – or as Dr Cassie Jackson calls it, the ‘Here and Now.”  There is beauty in entering into his world – this is what I tried to say to the doctors and psychiatrists at the Royal Society of Medicine. While the medical community and the policy makers and the number crunchers all try to assess FASD from their undeniably important analytical perspectives, we have to take pride in the messiness of being parent advocates. And we honour and deeply respect those of us with FASD who are self-advocates. The most powerful moment of this week was when a teen with FASD spoke her truth to parliamentarians and when they spoke back directly to her, affirming the impact she had made.

We have a right to be at these tables even if we are a bit crumpled around the edges, less smooth than we’d like to be. As real as that life-worn Velveteen Rabbit we tell our kids about.

I’ll admit here among friends that I had to dig the dress trousers I wore that day from the bottom of a dirty laundry pile and my shoes were not shined as I walked into Parliament.  I am sure there is still some sort of liquid vegetable at the bottom of our refrigerator drawer and the freezer cannot close properly because it so desperately needs defrosting. This life is messy.

Being a parent advocate is not always pretty and it is not straightforward. It feels slow. Sometimes it can seem like an impossible juggling act when the demands at home are so intense and those moments away from my children feel like I am failing them.

But when my little one proudly tucked into his school bag so he could show his friends and teachers a positively framed news article titled “Calling All Superheroes” that highlighted “support for those with a brain condition” – I knew, I KNEW this journey is worthwhile.  We will get there, even if it feels at times like a snail’s pace. This next generation is strong and with our help they will be better equipped than those who have gone before them. They have FASD role models paving the way. We all are standing on the shoulders of giants. We are not fighting the same old battles. We are moving this into a whole new playing field.

And my son who sees more than I do reminded me this week that even a snail’s pace can be a fascinating journey.

I suspect that once we break out of our comfort zones further – bringing with us to static rooms our messy lives and our powerful truths – change can come faster and with more innovation than we can imagine now.

And as we who live it all all know, where ever we FASD families go the trails we leave sparkle and glitter. 🤣

For anyone who doubts that, I have proof. In this one snail- and slime-loving house – I have yet to scrape the remaining glitter slime off our dining room table…and the snails are out there again on this wet morning. Yes, this weekend’s task is to tidy up around here after a busy week of being both seen and heard…reality calls…

 

 

 

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Airing Dirty Laundry

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By SB_FASD

I know I’m weird. I have never really minded doing the laundry. I was taught early and well to take great satisfaction from jobs with clear results. It starts off dirty. A few steps and voila! It’s clean. I can see the proof that I accomplished something. In fact, few things are more satisfying than seeing clean-smelling, neatly folded, bright and tidy clothes tucked into drawers, everything crisp and orderly – proof of course that I am a Good Mum.

I know you can see where this is going.

In our house, thanks in large part to FASD (though, to be fair, not entirely due to FASD), laundry is not that simple.

First, there is the volume. A sensory-seeker who loves mud and slime, who might chew on clothing when under stress, who spits out foods that his body rejects and who might not be able to contain the need to wipe a runny nose until finding a tissue naturally generates massive amounts of laundry. There are up to four changes a day due to continence problems that arise from food allergies and other issues around digestion/food, generating laundry that needs to be addressed daily and urgently and without shaming or blaming.  There are of course also favourite stretchy tops and soft trousers that need to be nearly always available.

I try to keep a smile, even as my heart sinks watching the stack(s) of laundry grow.

Attacking this gets complicated.

Our son has some autistic-type traits directly related to his FASD – damage caused to his brain by exposure to alcohol in the womb. He has always had a very special and intense focus on washing machines. I get it, I really do. What’s not to like? The whirring and spinning, bubbles and sounds can be soothing and captivating. Our guy used to sleep in a pushchair parked in front of washing machines (which in England are front-loading and have glass windows).

His interest has deepened. He has become an expert of sorts by watching endless hours of YouTube videos and playing with his armada of toy washing machines which he has begun taking apart and putting back together again with varying success. When he goes to one of his favourite destinations – Currys – he discusses the technical specifications of most top brands with the staff. Armed with that kind of knowledge, he gets nervous and anxious when our ancient washing machine at home rattles a bit in the spin cycle. He worries it is ‘unbalanced’. If he sees a ‘suds lock’, his anxieties erupt if we don’t shut down the machine. He pleads with us to buy a new one. He knows which will fit the space we have.

Once upon a time I might have thought I needed to help him ‘get over it’ – to push on with my own schedule and just do the laundry despite his anxiety.  But we are the ones who had to learn. FASD is brain-based. To make it more likely that he can cope with even seemingly mundane things, we have to adapt the environment. In the FASD community this is a bit of a mantra, deriving from the ‘neurobehavioural’ approach made popular by Diane Malbin.

So this raises logistical issues related to timing – if we do laundry when our guy is slightly dysregulated, overly tired or anxious it may lead to a meltdown (although the line is never exactly clear, as sometimes watching the machine can help soothe him).

Then there are practical issues – we need to hang the laundry to dry. Given England’s usual wet skies, that means this laundry is hanging on drying racks in our dining room – making the spaces more chaotic than they already are, which is not ideal for someone with FASD. It also limits the number of loads we can do on a given day (our dryer, never overly cooperative, has died.) On a given day you are likely to see half of our dining table covered in folded laundry.

Which leads us then to the storage issue. Our guy cannot organise himself. His most used clothes are in plastic crates so he can see them and access them. When he looks for something, it all gets jumbled. I could be angry about this, but there’s no point.

Others might think I am enabling ‘bad habits’ by not forcing him to clean his room himself. But while he may be 13, like many children with FASD he has a social/emotion level of about half his age. No, I have no intention that our son will always have a room that looks like this. But in a world where getting him to school and keeping his anxieties down are the top priorities, I have learned over time to priortise my own goals. Of course, the tidiness of his room matters because it helps him to be in a calm and orderly space. We do try to keep it somewhat manageable for that reason and I take lead responsibility on this, but not so I can fulfill my maternal dreams of nicely stacked, sweet-smelling laundry. I do it for him.

But in the end, who cares about our laundry? Why am I writing this?

I believe that alternative parenting needs to be better understood.

People need to know there are layers upon layers of complexities to parenting in houses affected by FASD.

It’s important to look a bit deeper when someone is parenting in a way you find so outside of your box that you are tempted to criticise. You might just see some magic happening.

Whether or not I chastise my son for tossing his socks after he takes them off, whether or not I turn a blind eye to that smear on his sleeve, whether or not I allow a stack of soiled laundry to grow in the bathroom and wait until our son is asleep or out of the house to do the laundry – these are choices based on strategies that might not be apparent to the casual viewer. Of course I see these things and yes, despite the above, I still suppress guilt every day about it all. I do want to be a perfect mum. I do want my house to be perfect – or at least, non-toxic. I admit it, I want stacks of nicely folded sweet-smelling laundry to be IN every drawer in our home.

A little while ago, my son reminded me some clothes in the washer were done and needed to be hung to dry. The he asked if I had any laundry he might do. We agreed he could wash a sheet from his bed. After he loaded and started the machine, he came to me and expressed concern that there might be too many suds. I told him if that made him anxious he could go to his room and I would watch the machine for him. He did. He went and got himself changed and dressed (he was also making slime and has a cold, he realized his clothes needed changing). Most ended up in designated piles. He is content. We have had no meltdowns, no harsh words.

Perhaps to the outside world none of this is remarkable. But in that last paragraph there are many positive signs for the future. During my first week of university I met a man from a large family who had never used a washing machine before in his life. My son with a learning disability knows how to do this at the age of 13. He expressed to me his worries, we agreed a strategy for how to deal with them and avoided the worst outcome of a potentially spiraling situation. There can be glimmers of huge progress in the simplest of things, when we stop to see it.

We can’t change some things around here. But we can change how we react to them. We can adapt and learn how to support our son via his interests to become as independent as he can be. We have had to step right outside of that box of expectations that we had ingrained within us and we have allowed our concept of parenting to expand. We are learning to give it time and patience. We are trying to have more fun along the way.

It really doesn’t hurt anyone or anything to indulge our son in an extra spin cycle or two now and then. Who knew?

He did.

He’s been showing us all along what he needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Care

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By MB_FASD (and a side note from SB_FASD)

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe.
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.
(As You Like it, William Shakespeare)

I like a good Shakespeare quote, and this one fits the circumstances of the past couple of weeks, at least for me.

Parents and carers of kids with FASD are busy. So busy. There’s never enough time. There just isn’t. For us, when you aren’t dealing with the day to day, then there is the relationship with school to manage, or appointments at the doctor, a seemingly endless round of trips to one hospital or another, from therapist to counsellor, from consultant to nurse. Even the extra loads of washing take time.

The supervision of the day takes a huge amount of energy, and at almost any time, a meltdown can bring everything to halt for hours while we help our young man to re-regulate and things can get back to (FASD) normal.

When you combine all this with work, the rest of the family and everyday life, time is squeezed. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. So things slide. Sometimes important things. That’s what’s been happening to me. I let things go by that I should have been noticing, or I did notice but didn’t pay attention to. My wife worried at me to look after mysef, to get some checks done. And I brushed her advice off.

Sinking into the sofa exhausted at the end of the day, every day, had become my normal. Having a little afternoon nap had become normal. I got extremely thirsty all the time. I felt below par every day. This was my normal. And I wrote it off to the stress of living with a child with FASD (and another with chronic fatigue).

I did nothing.

But, it came back to haunt me. Just like the advice on the aeroplane, if the oxygen mask falls then put your own on before trying to assist others, I should have been taking care of myself.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the doctor complaining of a persistent cough, which had lasted since a virus knocked me flat in February and triggered my asthma. She asked a lot of questions, and sent me for blood tests and chest x-rays.

Fast forward a few days and the doctor’s surgery calls and tells me to come in that morning. An hour later she tells me I have Type 2 diabetes, and after discussion, I have probably been in an acute phase of the condition for at least 18 months. Looking at the blood sugar results she tells me it’s ‘a bloody miracle’ I’m not in a coma.

Later, with the diabetes nurse, she shows me how to use a blood sugar testing monitor. The result is too high for the machine to read – it just says “HI” on its little screen, meaning my blood sugar is over 33, when I’m aiming for 8! For good measure I need to get my cholestorol level down. And lose a bit of weight, although I’ve lost two stone since the doctor last weighed me as a result of the untreated diabetes.

Back home, my diet changes immediately. Gone are the carbs, salty and sugary items that made up a lot of my diet – and that includes the grapes and yogurts I was eating a lot of. Convenience eating is a thing of the past. Everything is measured, considered and prepared from scratch. My wife is delighted about this bit, and a Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics book appears immediately. She gets to cook all sorts of things she loves!

Two weeks on (with the help of some meds) my blood sugar is low and relatively stable. I’m learning to live with diabetes and starting to feel better. I’m not getting up two or three times a night to pee. I’m feeling more rested from a night’s sleep. I’m less prone (I think, check in with my wife) to being irritable because of fatigue. Things are on the up.

This means more energy to deal with the things that life throws at you. More energy to look after our son. I’ve started taking care of myself, and it means I am in two short weeks, better able to take care of him.

And that, in a nutshell, is the moral of the story. Take the time to take care of yourself, so you can take care of the others in your life. And how necessary is that when you have a young one with FASD in the family. They need you to be at the top of your game. Every day.

Listen to your body. Act on the signals it sends. Try not to “rot and rot” as the bard put it.

Take care.

*********

A note from SB

I knew he was sick. He says I “worried” at him. It was more than that. I knew what I was seeing, my father had diabetes. Combined with high cholesterol and heart issues, diabetes took my dad’s foot and contributed to years of very bad health leading to an early death.
 
I was scared by what I was seeing.
 
And yet, the days and weeks and months and possibly years passed. I cannot tell you how guilty I felt when I realised not just that he has diabetes, but how serious it had become.
 
Because of FASD, we are faced every day with the kind of in-your-face urgent issues that cannot be ignored. Of course we are tired. Of course we are snappy with each other. Of course we feel down. Of course we take short cuts. Our interactions have been curt and far from the hours-long discussions we used to have about issues big and small. I felt he was being selfish by not looking after himself. I felt he was whinging. I grew up in a “if-your-cut-hand-is-not-falling-off-keep-playing” kind of large family. I had told him (repeatedly, and even in front of his mother a couple of times) what I thought was wrong. If he chose not to act on it, I was not going to nag. 

Except I didn’t grant him, my partner in this life, the same courtesy I grant to our child with FASD.  I never thought he was as badly affected as he is and that a medical condition might be underlying behaviours. I nearly cried when one of my sister-in-law’s friends who has diabetes said that she had never heard of anyone having readings as high as his and that this must be making it really hard for him to control mood swings. I didn’t for a second imagine his outbursts that threw me through the roof myself might actually be due to blood sugar swings. I didn’t think his behaviour might be a symptom too – and that is the mantra of FASD parenting. I should have trusted my lovely husband enough to see this for what it was.
 
I feel guilty.
 
Deep, deep guilt. 
 
I am surrounded by people who have medical conditions that are demanding. Diabetes. FASD. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME. I am certain the stress we all live under is playing a negative role in all of this. I myself was in hospital a couple of years ago with neurological issues.

This life is not easy. There’s no outlet, no fun, no release. Or at least we don’t prioritise finding ways to lighten our load. I always feel there is more I should be doing. And now I need to learn about carbohydrates that convert from sugars and figure out how to integrate new foods into a home where one of us has major sensory issues related to food. I am a short order chef these days, making multiple foods. More pressure. (Yes, I bought the Mediterranean Cookbook for Diabetics, sure, but I have yet to read it.)

The pace is relentless. But if you are reading this, most likely you are familiar with it.

We are not alone. I know of too many individuals and families coping with FASD where the stresses drive peoples’ health into the ground, where relationships get torn to the point of no return, where depression takes hold. 

We have to do better. As my husband says above, we have to “take care”.  We have to take care of ourselves and we also have to take care of each other too…maybe a bit more aggressively than the British culture is comfortable with. Maybe we need to force those difficult conversations. Lives are at stake. This isn’t optional.

I am glad he caught this before worse harm was done. I am thankful it’s something we can manage. He didn’t mention above that they also were screening for cancer at the same time. There is a reason why we haven’t posted a blog post in a little while. It’s been quite a ride around here lately. 
 
…now, where is that reminder about the smear I was due for ages ago…?

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Crunch Time – Beyond Broken Doors and Dreams

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This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post under the title: “The Moment You Reach Breaking Point As A Parent

By SB_FASD

There is a certain sound when something hollow gives way in the face of force. A crunch and a silence that leaves us a bit stunned for a moment. We sit there, frozen, as the knowledge sinks in that there’s no going back. There’s only forward from this spot.

Parents with children with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and other disabilities are often familiar with this sound. Doors, walls, toys, electronics. Spirits. Dreams. Hopes. Things cave in when under enough pressure – whether it’s quick and impulsive or constant and unrelenting.

We are faced with big and small moments where realities compress down into one critical instant. And we are left with a choice of what do to when we realise something has broken – around us, within us.

I was standing in that space last night. It has been a difficult few days. It’s a school holiday. It’s never easy when we go off-schedule, especially when combined with other family and work pressures. Resilience is low.

England’s relentless gloomy weather lifted for just a while. We were trying to be outside, active. Maybe we tried too much. It doesn’t matter how we got there, it happened. It will happen again.

I had a choice. I said something unkind. I could lay out the reasons – how after hours and hours of our son teetering on dysregulation my own tensions had ratcheted up to the point where I lost my filter. I think you’d understand. It even involved a dog with digestive issues. A certain person with sensory issues trod through the results and spread it across two floors and onto his bed. It ended up with the duvet being thrown down stairs, panic from too many bubbles in a bath and my inability when personally exhausted to handle multiple crises on multiple levels in one moment. It was fairly spectacular in retrospect.

I don’t even know for certain that my son registered my unkind comment. We certainly were back on solid ground not long after, once the dog was outside, the bubbles were tamed and the bedding changed. The floors cleaned. But that is not the point. I know what I said.

Maybe others have those things they have said in those moments. Words we cannot recover. There is no going back, only going forward.

So much is written about children with ‘violent’ behaviours. Our schools and our culture focus on stamping out ‘rudeness’ and ‘aggression.’ There is a great pressure on parents to raise children who conform, who ‘fit in.’ But some children don’t conform to societal rules because they cannot due to the way their brains are wired – at least not unless significant accommodations are made. It’s not because they are naughty.

I am pretty on top of this ‘alternative parenting’ concept and yet I still feel the weight of that external pressure every single day. Someone gives a funny look when we are out and our son – who is trying his hardest but is struggling – might use choice language. Someone frowns in disgust when they see our guy on a path, wearing some pink lipstick that was a give-away on a pop magazine, ignoring his joy while projecting her disdain. A relative who otherwise gets it writes in capital letters on Facebook that it’s time to cut our son’s hair that he has proudly been growing for a year. We watch TV shows full of happy families, see pictures in social media of friends on idyllic family holidays. Never mind exotic beaches, we can’t manage a meal out without a server having to bring us five extra forks because the ones at the table were all ‘bent’ – and by then it’s too late as our son is just not going to eat the sausage and mash we just paid for, no matter how hard the parents at the adjacent table stare at us. Yes, that was all part of our yesterday. Pressure comes at us from every direction as parents of a child who is different. Teflon skin apparently has its breaking point too.

Once something has given way under such pressure, there is no going back. You can sometimes patch things up, but not everything can be ‘fixed.’

It doesn’t always happen with an explosive jolt – like a kick landing on an already damaged bedroom door, snapping off its lower hinge yet again (that was two days ago).  It doesn’t always happen with a swift snap – as when a new beloved hairdressing doll gets shattered when thrown down the stairs after a pretty amazing attempt at a fishtail braid gets muddled at the end (also two days ago). Sometimes the pressure just builds and builds outside us – like a diver going deeper and deeper. Even when they surface they just can’t breathe. The body has dealt with so much pressure for so long, they need help to function again in the ’normal’ (whatever that is).

I picture that tiny defenseless developing embryo or foetus, doing its best to grow in all its complexity, day by magical day in utero, being pressured by alcohol pushing and pulsing where it should never have been. I think of the billions of neural connections starting to fire away, being washed repeatedly in the womb by a torrent of teratogenic ethanol delivered straight across that placenta into the space meant to be safest of all. I imagine that alcohol sitting there for days, with mum not knowing that long after the sweetness or relief has left her lips, it continues to press its mark on a new person’s future, dissolving unknown potential, collapsing the full range of that little being’s abilities though thankfully unable to alter its magnificent soul.

Yes. There are pressures and forces outside us, within us that sometimes we cannot control.

Yes. There is no going back, only going forward.

We each have a choice. What do we do when ‘perfect’ is no longer attainable?  The door is broken. The words were said. The alcohol did its damage. We are here, now. Where do we go next?

A friend who is an adult with FASD has the answer for those who are lost, confused, who don’t know what to do when the big emotions flow. Where there are no textbook answers for what to do next, she says, “Ask yourself what would love do?”*

Love would forgive – others, ourselves, society. Love would hold close and not push away. Love would embrace and find peace. Love would forget about perfection and revel in the joy that can be found in the here and now.

There is always a way forward. In that space after something has broken, there is always a choice. Accept the reality. Breathe deeply in that pause. And then? Choose love.

 

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*With thanks as always to Savanna Pietrantonio, Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) FASD Parent & Caregiver Support Group and FASD: Flying with Broken Wings Facebook Support Group.

 

 

 

 

 

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