When I was five-years-old, my kindergarten teacher discovered I had significant problems and was unable to do what the other kids could do. She informed my adoptive parents that she felt something was seriously wrong. A neurologist was contacted and my kindergarten teacher’s instincts were accurate.
“Ann has significant and permanent brain damage. It is in an area of the brain that will affect comprehension, retention, and her eyes. Her processing is affected and I doubt she will even be able to graduate high school.”
He was right about what was wrong with the brain. What he did not factor in, was my determination. Nothing kept me down. I found ways to learn and ways to get around my disabilities. The more I heard I couldn’t, the more I said I’m going to find a way.
Forty years ago, they did not connect these disabilities with FASD, but we did not know my biological mom drank during pregnancy. A genetics doctor confirmed that it was FASD.
I like to tell this story because I want to offer hope. There is so much negative out there about the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol. Yes, it can be preventable, but what do we do with those of us who are already here. There needs to be more helps and more services and we need to start calling FASD what it is. It is a birth defect! Nothing less! Until we call it this, the schools will not be able to put list it on IEP’s. The right kind of services from Developmental Disabilities and doctors, eye doctors, etc. will not be available.
I sat in a class of other five year olds and was not able to cut on a line. I was not able to read until much later than my peers. I still have a great deal of difficulty seeing like others because my eyes do not work together and I have no depth perception. I do not understand a lot that is said and I do not process very fast. I have to be told things more than once and I have a hard time keeping out background noises. My skin hurts at times and I even want to take off all my clothes because nothing helps. I have routine. I don’t like very many foods. I have my normal likes in what I eat…what feels good in my mouth. I would be good eating my macncheese and peanut butter cereal and pasta for the rest of my life.
I don’t feel a lot of pain. For some reason that part of my brain is shut off. My balance is off. My dad built a balance beam in my basment to help with that. I had to wear an eye patch for eye problems. I had some helps, but after my dad died when I was 11, my helps pretty much died. My life changed…for the worst.
If anyone knows FASD, we do not like change. We do not transition well and loss is horrific. My dad was the closest person to me and he was my safety and what I would have called my EB (external brain) when I was a kid. His death changed me forever and I honestly believe I have never been the same.
Swimming had been my saving grace until my father died. I stopped that abruptly after. Everything stopped. My adoptive mom gave my adopted sister away because she was unable to cope and life got worse. It seemed like I was unable to do anything right and my grades went to F’s and D’s.
The schools said counseling was the best option. I was forced to go talk with someone, but my mouth did not work. My FASD affected my speech and speaking goes with stress and my brain shuts off. I don’t think I said a word to that counselor in the year I saw her.
I continued to go inward. Drinking became a part of my life. I would do anything to numb. I continued to find myself in situations that were not good for me. It was amazing I am alive.
Looking at this, I have realized that the reason all of this happened…I had an FASD brain and I was left to find my own way. My adoptive mom worked many hours, my dad had just died, my sister was put into foster care, and I had a brain that went into shock. I honestly believe if I would have had a good solid, external brain who was safe and who was looking out for my well-being when I was 11 years old the rest of my bad decisions would not have happened. I didn’t want to go in those directions. I was hurting and I had noone around me to guide me and to listen to me. Noone to pay attention to the fact that I was going in the wrong direction.
External brains are so crucial to the existence of FASD people. We rely so heavily on those around us to be safe and to guide. Half the time, we don’t understand what is going on in the room. I constantly look to the people in the room to know what is going on. I would look to my peers to know what to do next for assignments. No, I was not cheating. I look to people in groups to know what is being said and done. I look to others to know if it is a safe environment or if there is danger. We really don’t know a lot of the times. We often find ourselves in dangerous situations and trust people we shouldn’t because we don’t have that thing in the brain that gives us a heads up. We are very trusting and we believe in people. We also forgive very easily and don’t learn from our hurts a lot of time and keep going back for more.
With all of this said, we are amazing people. I really believe that God has given me amazing talents and gifts with this disability. Things I would not trade. People have asked me if I would want a neurotypical brain. The answer would be no. I can sense things in people…I see a tear before it falls, I can capture life behind a lens of a camera beautifully, I am an award winning journalist because I have been able to capture heart-wrenching stories with the written word.
My talents might be different than other FASD folks, but one thing we all have…we all have the ability and determination to take what we CAN do and make it exceptional!
thanks for reading and supporting the cause of FASD