Is it ADHD…or could it be FASD?

I spent the morning filling out forms so that my son could see yet another specialist, get yet another evaluation, have yet another appointment with someone we’re hoping can help us figure out our little guy. While his current diagnosis is ADHD and PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, although NOT the PDD that most people associate with the autism spectrum – more of a child-wide developmental delay), his behavior, his reaction to medication, and the impact his various therapies have (or rather, haven’t had) on him still leave us puzzled. Nothing seems to fit. His diagnoses seem off. So it’s off for round 4 of evaluations.
This time we’re taking him to a clinic that specializes in FASD. FASD =Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. After a couple of years of going back and forth to various psychiatrists, his current psychiatric group has suggested this as the next step. Basically, we, and his doctors, think he was exposed to alchol in utero and it’s this resulting brain damage that has manifested itself in his behaviors, his processing issues, and his learning problems.

Here’s the thing: my son is adopted. His birth mother was an alcoholic. This much we know. And if this is his deal – that he has FASD, which is permanent brain damage – he and we will need a whole new level of education, therapies, and strategies for the future. FASD is not like your “average” ADHD, where the child has attention and impulse issues but medication, behavioral interventions, and intensive parenting can truly have a big impact and result in a very bright future. No, if a child is on the FASD spectrum, it’s highly likely that he or she will always have impaired behavior and judgment. Always. He or she may not be able to live independently, hold a job, or take care of children. Not the same prognosis as ADHD. Yes, there are some things we can do to help him, but the outlook for kids with FASD is, in general, pretty poor.
All of this should make me angry, I suppose, but it doesn’t. I’m mostly sad, but not angry. I had no control over what Little J’s birth mother did, and I can’t change the past. He’s our son, and just as if I’d given birth to him myself I have to deal with the here-and-now, not the then. There is no woulda-coulda-shoulda when it comes to what happened to him before he came to us. So we’ll deal. It’s a whole new way of thinking about our son and our family, but we’ll manage. He (and we) deserve the best future possible.
Now, I’m not really sure how to say this next part, and I’m really only saying it because I’m hoping it helps someone reading this: could your child, who you think or have been told has ADHD, be impacted by fetal alcohol exposure, too? This goes not only to the adoptive moms, but to the bio moms as well. Is it possible that you drank alcohol when you were pregnant? Because if you did, you should do yourself a favor and look up FASD for yourself (a great place to start is NOFAS). There is no safe level of alcohol in pregnancy. None. And how many of us can say that we truly abstained the whole time? Sure, after you found out you were pregnant – but what about before?
My older son, Big J, was a happy accident. His dad and I had planned to have children, but we weren’t planning to do it then, and it just happened. Within about 4 weeks I started suspecting something and ran off an bought my pregnancy test, but in those 4 weeks I could have easily have ingested alcohol. I’m not a regular drinker, but what if I’d gone to a party? What if my husband and I had gone to a bar, or a concert, o

 

r on vacation? I know TONs of women who didn’t know they were pregnant until they were 2 or 3 months along, and many of these women enjoy alcohol. I drink, too, just not every night. And while I watch myself when I drink, I certainly have had my moments of overindulgence. What if that had happened when I hadn’t known I was pregnant?
FASD could have happened, that’s what.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone by this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that all kids with ADHD have been exposed to alcohol in utero. Not at all. I’m posting this in the hopes that I, and maybe one or two other people reading this, might learn something about their child.
In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted. It may be a hard road ahead. But my hope is that with more answers, even if they’re ones that make us sad, we can be better parents to our son.

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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