One of the most important things parents are advised is to be firm and consistent with our children, especially when it comes to behaviors. Natural consequences, time out, and other types of discipline are all common ways parents attempt to teach children behavior boundaries.
I have 4 children, and with 3 of them standard, ordinary, logical parenting approaches have been very effective. However, I also have one child who was exposed to alcohol before her birth and suffers from Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND) A physical disability of the brain. For this child parenting is a completely different story and requires understanding of her handicap and approaching things much differently.
When behaviors are seen as willful and intentional or as the result of an emotional problem the standard approach is to try to change the behaviors. If instead, these behaviors are understood to be the result of a physical disability, then the focus needs to be completely different. Changing the environment to prevent frustrations that result in more serious secondary behaviors is the most important accommodation.
Primary behaviors are behaviors that most clearly reflect the differences in brain structure and function:
- Dysmaturity, socially or developmentally younger then the chronological age would indicate.
- Slower processing pace in thinking and hearing.
- Impulsivity, and distractibility.
- Memory problems with inconsistent performance.
- Strengths is some areas: art, music, interpersonal skills, computer, and others.
- Difficulty generalizing, forming links and associations.
- Difficulty abstracting or predicting the outcome.
- Over and under sensitivity to stimuli.
When I first met my daughter she was 5 -years-old and I had a good idea what to expect from a child that age. I had no idea what to expect with a child who was alcohol affected. I parented her just as I had my older children, and expected her to respond. Our adoption training had stressed the importance of consistence in expectations of a newly placed child. So we established some very clear-cut routines.
It seemed reasonable to expect a child at the age of 5, to learn that in our home we always, put our toys away, wash our hands, and then come to the table for dinner. Our daughter seemed able to follow the series of tasks one day, but not on others. Some days she could remember and would follow these instructions without a problem other days she simply could not even when prompted.
On the days, that she could not remember or respond to my request, to put away her toys, wash her hands, and come to dinner I initially took her behavior as naughty and deliberate. Over time I became angry and gave a consequence for not minding, or learning, or remembering or at least listening! I expected her stop ignoring my words, and learn the routine for meal times.
The problem was that because her brain is physically damaged when she was given a consequence for not minding me, she felt blind sighted since she couldn’t even remember what she was supposed to do and her processing speed of hearing my request was so slow she hadn’t registered the fact I had even made a request. This built anger and defensiveness in her. She didn’t get “why” I was so upset since as far as she could understand she didn’t do anything wrong.
I of course, am not going to tolerate a child who is angry at me due to her own lack of attention or irresponsibility. Eventually, and for more then 3 years our home was filled with both an upset and irritated mother, and a defensive child. Which only made it more likely to have a stronger negative reaction the next time something similar happened. I could write fifty-thousand examples of these situations we have expereinced in our home.
The bottom line is that my expectations and lack of understanding that my child suffers from a physical disability helped to cause even more negative behaviors which developed into the known secondary behaviors often seen in people who are FAS or ARND.
Secondary Behaviors or characteristics. Behaviors are believed to develop over time when there is a chronic problem with the fit between the person and his/her environment. Like tight shoes that rub a blister, a poor fit with the environment causes emotional pain. This pain creates defensive behaviors which may develop early and become a pattern of behaviors.
- Fatigue, frustration.
- Anxious, fearful.
- Rigid, resistant and argumentative.
- Overwhelmed, may shut down and appear not to care.
- Poor self concept, feelings of failure and low self-esteem.
- Self-aggrandizement –attempting to “look good”.
- Isolation, with few friends, picked on.
- Acting Out, aggression.
- Family and/or school problems including suspension or expulsion.
- Sexual problems.
- Truancy, run away and other forms of avoidance.
- Trouble with the law.
- Depression, self-destructive, suicidal common among teens and adults.
Learning about the physical brain disability people with FAS or ARND have has helped me understand and try different things to help my child, instead of using the same old methods which are not helpful to her or me as her mother.