Parenting Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
Parenting Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) PDF
Parenting a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a journey. It can be challenging and rewarding all at the same time. You cannot parent a child with an FASD without having it change your life. You more than likely will meet some amazing people, make lifelong friendships, and see a child work really hard to be the best person they can be with your love and support. The information below can help guide you on this unique parenting journey.
- There is a wide range of lifelong behavioral and intellectual effects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure.1,2 The effects of FASD can get more complex with age.3 It is hard to see your child struggle, and you may go through periods of grief, frustration, or confusion. This may hit you at times when you are least expecting it. This is normal and there is support available.
- Learn as much as you can about FASD. Read books, attend trainings and conferences, and connect with community resources and support groups; not just at the beginning of the journey, but throughout.
- Get accustomed to educating others on FASD, including friends, family members and professionals. It is often a misunderstood disorder and is commonly known as the invisible disability.4 FASD is a public health issue; everyone needs to know that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects. 5
- Be aware that there are a number of characteristics your child might display as they grow. The different characteristics can present at different times of development, but in general you might see these effects of prenatal alcohol exposure during these particular stages:
- low birth weight
- sensitivity to light, noise, and touch
- unable to suck effectively
- slow to develop
- ear infections
- trouble sleeping
- poor memory
- seems to have no fear
- speech and language delays
- poor social skills
- easily distracted, short attention span
- poor coordination
- trouble with large and fine motor skills
- difficulty in school
- low self-esteem
- involvement with the criminal justice system
- poor impulse control
- must be reminded of concepts on a daily basis
- FASD is a form of organic brain injury: it is permanent brain injury that causes inconsistency in behaviors and intellectual abilities on a daily basis.
- FASD is a spectrum disorder. Each person with an FASD is unique and special in their own way.
- Don’t blame yourself (or the birth mother if you have adopted or are fostering a child). FASD is usually a result of misinformation, lack of knowledge, unplanned pregnancy, or alcohol use disorder. No person goes into their pregnancy willfully intending to harm their child.
- Be patient. Never blame the child for their brain injury. Children with an FASD may be able to repeat a rule but may not understand it or be able to apply it. This and other common cognitive symptoms of FASD can be very frustrating. Try not to get irritable or short tempered. Make respite and self-care for yourself a priority.
- Prepare to re-teach everything; even if they understand today, they may not tomorrow. Sooner or later they will likely get it.
- Know that conventional parenting techniques may not work for children with an FASD. Time-outs rarely work for kids with an FASD; the common symptom of inability to understand consequences may be the reason for this. We have to be creative and find alternative strategies like being proactive versus reactive and providing consistent supervision. Know that when we find one strategy that works, it might not work forever.
Routine & Structure26
- Structure and routine can give children with an FASD a sense of calm. Keeping a daily routine and letting the child know ahead of time what the plan is for each day can be an effective strategy to regulate behavior.
- Consider using visual reinforcement of daily activities through written daily schedules or calendars. Try not to make the schedule too overwhelming.
- Prepare for transitions such as getting in and out of the car or bathtub, going to sleep, going to school, a change in television programs, etc. This preparation will look differently for each child; for some children a sand time or countdown timer seems to work well, for others timers may cause anxiety. Children with an FASD don’t always have the ability to make transitions from one emotional state or one activity to another. Be prepared to support them find what works for them.
- When giving instructions, be concrete, specific and allow extra processing time. Children with an FASD may not be able to see the parts of a whole nor understand a sequence. Help them by breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, communicating one at a time and repeating as many times as needed.
- Learn to distinguish between flexibility and chaos. Allowing spontaneous change doesn’t mean the whole schedule is done for that day. Structure can mean many things. Be understanding and supportive by being flexible or having a backup plan especially if the child is going to a new or high sensory place.
- A healthy nutritious diet helps with physical
and mental health. Consult your primary
physician to see if there is a specific diet that could be more effective for
- All children need exercise for muscle and motor
development. Try out different activities to see what fits best such as
swimming, rock climbing, biking, basketball, etc. For some children with an
FASD, team sports can be a challenge but also prevent isolation. Being a part
of a team or getting involved in a club or community group can also help with
- Many children with FASD have poor sleeping
patterns. To promote healthier sleep, establish evening routines before bedtime
and use a visual schedule to depict the bedtime routine. Maintain a consistent
bedtime and wake-up time throughout the week. If your child has sensory issues,
you might try massage, white noise, ear plugs, turning pajamas inside out, or
other ways of addressing sensory challenges.
- Educate and work with your child’s school to
find what works best. Some examples are: one-on-one support, sensory
breaks/tools, and/or reduced or no homework. This can reduce household tension
in the evenings and respect the child’s exhaustion level.
- Work with your child’s teachers to have a flow
of communication between home and school. This can create both a stronger home
and school environment for the child.
- Ask your child’s teacher to let you know if
there are going to be any upcoming changes at school, such as a substitute
teacher, a fire drill, or an activity that isn’t usually part of the daily
routine. Children with FASD thrive on consistency, and helping them prepare for
a change can make the process less stressful for them.
- Be aware that some relationships in your life may change. Work on educating family, friends, professionals, and community members about FASD, with hope that they will be patient and understanding.
- Connect with other families raising children with an FASD. This is one of the most common desires that caregivers have, to talk with another parent who “gets it”.
- Have fun every day! The symptoms of FASD can
create tension and stress within families so make sure you find something
positive and fun each day. It can be simple and short, but it is really
important to do.
- Make sure your child knows you love them. Reinforcing
attachments ensures they know that, no matter what, you are there for
them. This may look different for each
child; it might be lots of cuddles, actively listening to them about their day
or simply stating “I love you” during stressful situations.
- Remember that your child is a kid like any other
who wants love and acceptance. Accept them for who they are and meet them where
they are at each day. Ask yourself, “Where are they at today?” before setting
- Learn to expect chaos and celebrate when you are