Looking after children with foetal alcohol syndrome

During my career as both a foster carer and a behaviour manager in a school, I have worked
with just two children who were born with FAS. It was a surprise for me to realise that both these children shared very similar facial features as I hadn’t realised that it was one of the things associated with the syndrome. Each of them had wide set eyes, smaller noses and a flatter dip between nose and mouth. That was where the similarity ended, however, and that taught me something else – that each case could be different. Which meant there was no one-size-fits-all approach to managing such children.

The boy I worked with in school was quite a bright student who loved to learn new things. He was more boisterous than his peers, I would say, and lost interest quickly when not being checked on, but other than that he functioned really well. The only thing I found was that he seemed to forget rules and boundaries, but if repeated frequently to him, i.e. on a daily basis, he was happy to work within them. The way he looked different didn’t appear to bother him, and I think that because of this, any bullying towards him soon stopped. He just wasn’t interested in reacting to it. He was also known as the class clown, so I believe this helped him too.

The little girl I fostered however – Flip, who you’ll know about if you’ve already read SKIN DEEP – had very low self esteem. She had been bullied and was very much a victim. She too forgot instructions and rules and would get seriously stressed if she was given an information overload. This in turn affected her behaviours and she would tantrum like a toddler when she was frustrated. She also found it very difficult to account for anything she had done. For example, if we asked her why she had done something she shouldn’t have, she would say that she didn’t know, and she really didn’t. She couldn’t explain her reactions at all.

What I found very helpful was to break tasks down into bite sized chunks, and I made sure I only asked them to do things that I was sure they could achieve, always praising them highly when they completed something to my satisfaction. I also carefully explained things, using few words, when I needed to, such as, ‘today we are going into town. We will go into three shops and then be home for dinner.’ That way, there were no surprises, they knew the routine and would mentally tick off the day in their heads.

Showing, however, is the best way to teach young children with FAS. Giving physical examples enables them to visualise what you mean. They find it difficult to transfer skills and behaviours from one situation to another, so a lot of monitoring and reminding is required. I’ve also found that when expecting your child to interact with others, their lack of social skills or empathy often means supervision might be required, or at least some intervention and help with their play.

I’ve  been lucky – I’ve had the support of my fostering agency and various professionals to call on for advice. But where do you go to get help when you don’t have such support? I’ve been asked several times about how to access such help, and the very best organisation I’ve found is the charity NOFAS (www.nofas-uk.org), who have a wealth of information on their site. They also provide resources and support for parents and care-givers, and put on all sorts of events to raise both awareness and much needed funds for the valuable work they do. So whether you have a child with FAS,  or are managing or fostering one (or indeed,  think/know you have it yourself) I really recommend you take a look.

And, as ever, if you have a question, please let me know, and I’ll try to steer you in the right direction…
C x