Casey and John adopted their daughter Lucy when she was four – she is now nine years old. They are devoted to their lively, adorable daughter but no matter what Casey and John did, Lucy’s behaviours became unpredictable and she was getting aggressive and angry and was hitting and hurting herself.
At school the teachers reported that Lucy couldn’t stay in her seat and sometimes hit her classmates without any apparent provocation.
Though she is very verbal, she struggles with maths and telling the time. At home Casey helps Lucy every day with her homework. Lucy would learn her lesson one day and the next day forget everything she was taught. Casey and John had tried many parenting strategies but nothing was working.
When the social worker who had arranged the adoption told them that Lucy’s records noted that her parents were alcoholics, John searched the internet and learned about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
Casey and John took Lucy to their GP, Dr Robbins. She suspected that Lucy may have been exposed to alcohol before birth. Though Dr Robbins did not have experience to diagnose FAS or any other associated disorders she knew that a geneticist could diagnose the facial and physical features of FAS. Dr Robbins wrote a referral to the genetics department of the local hospital requesting that Lucy be given an appointment to be examined for possible FAS.
The geneticists report confirmed that Lucy had the facial features of FAS and a small head circumference. Lucy has unique hand creases, as well as small fifth fingers and toes.
When Lucy got a confirmed FAS diagnosis Casey and John were relieved to know what the problem was but didn’t know what to do about it.
They learned why the parenting skills they had been taught seemed to go wrong. Classic ‘time out’ as punishment made Lucy cry or get angry because she could never remember why she was being punished. She could not connect the consequences with her action.
But now that they knew that FAS was the reason for Lucy’s behaviours at home and at school, they could learn and apply better strategies.
John and Casey shared the best strategies with everyone working with and caring for Lucy. They started an FASD Parent Support Group. They no longer felt alone with a unique problem. They met families who could share their experiences and strategies. With knowledge and support life improved for Lucy, her family and at school.
Asking the prenatal alcohol question led to life-changing positive strategies for Lucy and all who cared for her.