This is a sample of what “Mrs. Smith” encounters when she attends a family therapy session at the residential center that houses her son, John, who has FAS. If it weren’t so ridiculous, it would be amusing. This is why some of us whom have adopted FAS kids do not seek out help. 

I am updating you all, thinking that you will be in a position to appreciate, in a special way, this particular segment of my FASD odyssey.

I just got a copy of the treatment plan they (John’s residential program) “forgot” to give me in September.  These treatment plans are always a good read, if you have a sense of humor.  They have ratings and give scores for areas they consider important to the treatment of the child in the residential facility.  They rate the child and his progress.  They also rate the family.    Each facility seems to have some variation of this basic “treatment plan” which they are required to write and submit every 3 months to the adoptions subsidy dept. [who pays for his residential treatment and housing]. 

This time I was rated high in the “social support system” category (a +2).  I guess they figure I must have some support somewhere if I could pull off getting him funded for another 6 months, but my ratings went way down in the “parenting skills” category.  This time I got a -3 (improvement needed). In “communication/interpersonal skills” I got a -2  (limited or ineffective skills).

Why have my parenting and communication skills taken such a sudden drop?  The answer is: the therapist has uncovered the “real”  problem in this case – John, a relatively normal, impulsive child has a mom who does not “believe in him.” Their assessment rates me in various other ways, if you’re ready, here we go:

intellectual capacity: 0 (average or above average)
literacy: 0 (literate)
resource management: +1 (strong money management skills)
sexual abuse: -2 (failed to protect child from sexual abuse)

But here is where we see the real “new insight” the therapist has come to (as listed under the family strengths and needs assessment section:

“…It is clear that he (John) does have problems.  However, all behavior occurs within a context.  The context of the interactions between John and Ms Smith are becoming clear.  There are some significant communication problems.  In addition to this, there seems to be a problem in the relationship….” and on and on.

Under the “parenting skills” (-3) section we get to the crux of the matter:

” ….the parental relationship will be addressed in family therapy to address this issues so that the underlying skills “(my underlying basically appropriate parenting skills)”can again be used.  In addition, some new skills and specific interactions for John could be learned.  The issue related to John having FASD is one such problem.  It is clear that John has some brain damage and this is probably related to his in utero exposure.  However, this does not have to scar him for life and he can retrain his brain.  John has picked up on some of her negative views.  This has been addressed in family therapy and will continue to be addressed with Ms Smith individually as well as between her and John.”   

So if we can read between the lines here we see that John’s main problem is that his mom thinks he has a brain problem that will scar him for life.  She has subtly communicated this to him, and this has caused him a real problem that underlies all his other behavioral problems.  When this gets cleared up, his behaviors will improve.  His wounds from this parental mistreatment will be healed. When Ms Smith comes to her senses and recognizes that John has a mild form of FAS that can be overcome, stops sending him negative messages, and start “believing in him,” then all will be well.  Mr. Therapist will work therapeutically to enlighten Ms. Smith and, if successful, major family issues will be resolved, John’s behavior will be impacted in a positive way, and he will be ready to be reunited with his family.       

Mr. Therapist met with me privately before last Wednesday’s family therapy session and began is “therapeutic work” with me.  Finding it somewhat difficult to sit through this “therapy,” I took notes, just to be sure I was not misunderstanding his intentions.  Although Mr. Therapist became somewhat heated and loud at times when I asked my questions, I was able to maintain my composure most of the time, though my pen did slip once or twice.

I will only quote highlights:

Mr. Therapist:  “You are only just focused on FASD and its limitations” 

(I, who have advocated for FASD strengths possibilities publicly for some time, sat calmly, and kept smiling… using my listening skills learned as a therapist) 

Mr. Therapist:  “Yes, there is brain damage from FAS, from trauma, from abuse, it is all damage to the brain.  Other parts can compensate for the damaged area.  There is nature and nurture.  Down’s syndrome, autism, that is nature, that is genetic.  FAS is not genetic, it is environmental, in the womb.  You, Ms Smith, see it as all nature, and think it can’t change.  Other areas of his brain can compensate for the damage.  You need nurture.”

Ms Smith:  “So, did you get some special training on FASD that I am unaware of?  I haven’t heard of this FAS teaching.”

Mr. Therapist:  “Yes, I had developmental psych in college.  I know all about FASD.”  

Ms Smith:  “If you’d like some more up to date FASD information, I can get you connected with FREE training provided through the State.”

Mr Therapist: “We don’t need training.  It’s not going to help because we already know, and it won’t have any direct impact on our treatment for John. “

Ms Smith: I find it interesting that after 6 months John is on level 3 in talk therapy, and is just now getting to level 1.5 in his behavior on the unit.  Can you help me understand why this is the case?”

Mr. Therapist:  “Well, yes.  This is because he came in to us at such a low level of functioning.”

Ms. Smith:  “You mean, like he started of at a -3?  And this would be as a result of his home environment?”

Mr. Therapist:   “Yes, that, and at [his prior foster home].”

Ms Smith:  “So, just let me clarify if I am hearing what you are saying.  The problem is mostly environmental.  You can address that here, and get good resolution with my cooperation.  Any FASD issues are minimal, and can be overcome.  And you don’t want any free training from the State to bring you up to speed on FASD, because you don’t need it.

Mr. Therapist: “yes”

Hope you enjoyed reading this entertaining saga…to be continued.

We are all on a journey!

I fully intended on just publishing this and not commenting on it, but I just can’t! I have no formal training on FAS, only personal experience, but apparently that is much more than this “trained” therapist has! No, this boy doesn’t act out because of her mother’s negativity or her focus on his FAS. He has FAS – brain damage – and all the negativity or positivity in the world will not change that. He is who he is – HELLO!

I have never once discussed FAS with one of my sons who has behaviors just like John. Her emails about what her son’s actions are like could have been written by me about MY son. I have never one time set limitations on what my son could accomplish or discouraged him from setting realistic goals just like anyone else who doesn’t have FAS. We have never treated him like he has a disability, and if you didn’t know him well, you’d never know he has FAS.  Yet, his behavior is the same as John’s. So explain that! How about we fire all the therapists and hire all the moms who really know? I especially was appalled at this statement made by the therapist: “Other areas of his brain can compensate for the damage.  You need nurture.”  

Uh, no you can’t! While it is true that FAS kids can learn skills and new ways of doing things, it is NOT true that you can ignore or wish away the alcohol damage. Everyone in the world, except apparently this therapist, knows that alcohol damage is forever and all the nurturning in the world will not change that! This man needs to quit his job and take up gardening – he needs to nurture plants far away from our children who need real help.