~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
A few months ago, I posted about my son's special needs. If you missed that post, the short story is Alex was adopted from Russia and has been diagnosed with FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). This means that he has organic brain damage because his birthmother drank when she was pregnant with him. I chose to share Alex's story to make me accountable. Alex was diagnosed in May of 2008, and 18 months later, I was still in denial. I was actually still searching for another diagnosis for him.
Now that I have accepted this diagnosis, we are on the path to a happier life, and because I am researching the correct syndrome, I am actually finding some things that work. The organic brain damage for Alex means that he has difficulty with transitions, impulsiveness and distraction. My telling him most anything verbally is usually counterproductive. He can hear what I say, but the message is fragmented and lost as it travels through his brain. This simple picture schedule and clock have made our mornings far more peaceful. The only catch is that Alex is a very concrete thinker. We eat breakfast at 7:15. He will not see 7:16 as also time to eat breakfast. We eat breakfast only at 7:15. (If you have seen Rainman - Ray's Judge Wapner at 4:00 requirement is a great visual of this.) Fortunately, I quickly learned that I can reset the clock to match the time needed.
Our clock now travels with us wherever we go. Last week, for the first time ever, we left the Target toy department without one single tear or complaint. He was so quiet that none of the other shoppers knew we were leaving. It has taken me way too long to realize that most of our battles are due to a lack of understanding not defiance.
Many people respond to me with, "All kids have trouble with transitions," or "my son is also impulsive and he is fine," or "He's a just a boy." They try to console me and help me feel better. On the contrary, it makes me feel worse. Blanket statements like this minimize our challenges and take away from Alex's successes. Denying the syndrome doesn't make it go away. Believe me, I have tried.
So, in our near future, I am hoping for a more peaceful child who can be calm because I helped him feel comfortable and safe. I am looking forward to trying to increase his attention span, and we will be working on improving eye contact. And just in case you are worried, I will not be pursuing a career as an illustrator - yet :).
If you would care to learn more about FAS, I would recommend Fantastic Antone Succeeds!: Experiences in Educating Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Edited by Judith Klienfeld and Siobhan Wescott.