Thursday, 14 June 2012

invisible disability

Let's say you're at the grocery store. You walk into the cereal isle and come across a parent with a child. The child is talkative, persuasive and begging for a sugary cereal. The child is about eight years old and starts banging on the shelves and the shopping cart when the parent tries to explain that they are not buying that cereal. The child starts to have a melt down. The child is having a tantrum, the kind that you would expect to see from a two year old. This is not the way that an eight year old with an age appropriate vocabulary usually acts. Those parents must spoil this child, they never say no. It is sad that this bad child has such bad parents.

Let's say you are walking down the street. You notice that a shop has planted some beautiful flowers on the boulevard. They are bright and fragrant. A young man walks by and notices the flowers. He moves quickly and starts picking them. The shop owner comes out and tells him that is vandalism. He continues to pick the flowers until the shop owner tells him to leave. It is too bad that man feels so entitled. He must have been spoilt as a child. It is sad that this bad man had such bad parents. 

It is so easy to assume we know all about people when we see the way they act in public. What it is not always easy to remember is that many people have invisible and often times, undiagnosed disabilities. A person with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) may look "normal", may speak with a "normal" vocabulary, may have a "normal" (or even above average) IQ. What they may not have is the ability to understand consequences, the ability to calm themselves down or the ability to understand instructions.

The young man picking the flowers may have thought that his girlfriend would like them. His brain could not make the connection that the flowers were not his to pick. He had a thought and his brain said "do it". The child in the store may have started feeling upset and soon that feeling took over. The child did not yet have the tools to stop the tantrum, even though this is something that he is working on with his parents at home.

1 out of every 100 Canadians are born with the affects of  FASD. This does not mean that their birth parents are bad people. 60% of people with FASD will end up in the criminal justice system. This does not mean that they are bad people. They have a physical, neurological disorder that makes it so that they cannot always understand cause and effect. People with FASD are not stupid. They are often frustrated, they are often misunderstood and they often do not get the help they need.

The affects of FASD are caused by a physical disability
not "bad behaviour"
Not every one affected by FASD gets into trouble. Many will go on to live semi-independent or independent lives. They may successfully complete school, successfully find employment and successfully raise children. You have probably met many people who have FASD and don't even know it. You might have friends with FASD and have no idea. FASD is a lifelong disability but early diagnosis, protective measures, learning aides, therapy and possibly medical intervention may help the affected person.

We do not know exactly how we feel about being the parents of a child with FASD. There are certain behaviours that we may find too difficult. This is only because of our own shortcomings but we need to be honest about those. We also have to be open to the possibility because the child/children that we adopt could end up developing new and difficult behaviours that lead to a diagnosis years after finalisation. If this happens, we will fight fiercely for them to have everything that they need to succeed to the best of their abilities.

Whew... long post! Want to read even more (you've got nothing better to do, right?)?
Check out this publication from the John Howard Society: 

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