Posted by: ramonamom | July 1, 2008

Confessions of a FAS Parent

One of our adopted sons has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or some aspect of the set of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome effects.  The pediatrician who examined him shortly after we brought him home (at the age of eight years old) mentioned casually that he had the “facial characteristics” of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  That surprised us and sent us scrambling to learn exactly what FAS was and how it might affect our newly adopted son throughout his life. 


We soon discovered that Fetal Alcohol Exposure (which was confirmed with our son, according to his medical records) carried a high risk of actually causing brain damage, depending on when during the pregnancy a mother ingested alcohol (see for more information).   Our son had so many of the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that it was obvious to us this was what we were dealing with.  The question became whether we needed to seek a professional diagnosis or not.  Since our son was a fairly high functioning FAS child, and also due to the fact that there seemed to be no concrete “benefit” to obtaining a diagnosis (this may have changed, but when I was doing research FAS persons did not qualify for any benefits based upon a diagnosis of this syndrome), we decided to work on finding ways to work through the challenges he presented without a confirmed medical diagnosis. 


Over the years, issues arose which we found could be directly traced to our son’s “brain damage”.  However, it was difficult to determine if learning problems were due to a change in language at the age of 8, or due to irreversible damage to his brain by alcohol before he was born.  The behavioral issues were the ones I struggled with the most, though.  Some of the particular areas he had problems with really “stepped on my toes” and I had very little patience or understanding with him when he committed those sins.


My husband and I began to try and understand what our son was capable of and how we might be expecting more of him than he was able to give.  I am ashamed to admit that there were a lot of times that I did not like our son, because of his behaviors.  I did my best to love him in a biblical manner (I Corin. 13), but I found it very hard to show affection to him or to go out of my way to be kind to him.  We kept him in our sight at all times, which we felt a necessary step, due to where his particular temptations were.  Looking back, however, I see that I carried that “confinement” farther than was required.  A video camera was used to help him see his own dishonesty at times, but I realize now that I hardly even gave him room to breathe, due to how tightly I drew his boundaries. 


A major turning point in my relationship with our son came only recently, when we began seriously considering whether our son was a danger to our own family.  My husband had purchased the book, _Blame It on the Brain_, by Edward T. Welch, but had quickly loaned it to a friend.  As our situation became more and more tense, we made the effort to recover our volume of this book so that I could read it. 


What I found among those pages was freedom, but it was painful at the same time.  God began to reveal to me how my expectations of our son had been unreasonable and that my attitude towards him was not a godly, forgiving, or loving one.  I was broken hearted as I began to see the pain I had caused him.  Even though the steps I had taken were to “protect” the rest of our family and thus not completely out of line, my motives and attitudes were sinful.  I studied the examples in the Old Testament of how God treated His ever-rebellious children and considered how I could apply that to my own life in so many ways (as the parent and the child). 


As I read the different chapters in _Blame It on the Brain_, it seemed that our son’s problems fit most accurately into the category of Brain Injury (which itself spoke volumes to me).  Mr. Welch spoke compassionately regarding how to help these people, yet my own attitude had been a hard and cold one.  I began to realize that our son needed our help now, more than ever, just as anyone would who had a brain injury due to a car accident.  The paragraph that struck right at my heart reads as follows:


“Too often brain injured people are unable to anticipate the consequences of their actions.  As a result, they can easily be tempted by foolishness that will provide temporary pleasure but long term sorrow.  Head-injured men are notorious for making horrible choices in relationships.  Jim {a character in the book}, even though he wanted to grow spiritually, was in danger of letting his desires rule him in this area.”


The rather simple steps that Mr. Welch used to help those with brain problems were:


1)      Get information.

2)      Distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms.

a.       Address heart issues.

b.      Maximize remaining strengths, and teach skills to correct weaknesses. 


Perhaps we had made stabs at such a process, but without the necessary steps of following through, working on the heart issues, teaching skills to correct weaknesses, etc. 


It was not by my own strength that my attitude began to change.  Rather, it was the strength of the Lord which I found when I was weak.  My heart softened towards this young man God had brought into our lives and I began to confess my sinful ways to him.  I asked for his forgiveness in subtle areas which he probably never realized I had sinned against him in, but I knew it was important for him to see how my attitude had not been godly towards him and that I was repentant and wanting to change, with God’s help. 


We began to work on dealing with small issues, praising him quickly (that was a very hard habit for me to get into…) and removing privileges just as quickly.  God worked on removing the grudges from my heart, as He also began to show me the strengths of this young man.  Our son is a very hard worker and will do anything for anyone (often without being asked – this was an impulse he had to learn to control).


At the end of this past school year, God used some simple statistics to give me more of an appreciation for this son.  As I added up and averaged scores, listed the books each child had read, and generally summed up their school work for the year, I began to realize that our son (who just happens to have FAS) was our best student of the year!!  Yes, I had been strict with him, but he had responded in obedience and diligence, for the most part.  Not every day, of course, and there continue to be study habits which could use some improvement, but I am so thankful that God allowed us to see his accomplishments for this year. 


I have not changed my own heart, but rather God has cleansed me of my sinful attitudes and replaced them with a growing mother’s love for this young man.  We have been able to trust our son more this summer than ever before, which shows us that God is also working in his heart.  He often works for hours in the yard, supervised only by an occasional glance out the window.  Only a few short months ago, we agonized over the possibility of sending this son away in order to protect the other members of our family.  God heard our prayers for wisdom during that difficult time, though, and His mercy overflows in our lives today.  To Him be the glory, great things He has done! 



  1. Dear RAMONA, We too have a couple of kids in this category. I tried to get my two diagnosed but the clinic in Seattle said I had to have documentation of the mothers drinking during their prenatAL care. I was so frunstrated for it ws documented that they were alcoholics but no prenatal care. Yeah right these ladies would get prenatal care.
    My two have struggled greatly and I too have had to pray for strength for forgiveness for my one son especially for he has made major mistakes which has cost us emotionally, physically and at times monetarily,
    My other two from Russia there is no mention of drugs or alcohol in their records. They are being tested by the school district extensively . No mention of FAS or FAE by anyone so far. I don’t see it anyway. Time wil tell.
    Thanks for your honesty and the name of the book. I have a daughter with permanent brain damage from blows on the head. This should help me to understand three of my kids better. Sincerely,JaNET POWERS

  2. i was incredibly encouraged by reading this!

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