Raising Compassion and Awareness for Individuals Affected by FASD

This post about FASD was written by the Director of FamilyWorks Together, Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH.  Alisha oversees the counseling, training, education, and special projects teams at Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together.  She received her bachelors from Skidmore College in English and Spanish and her Masters in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill.  During her graduate studies, Alisha focused on issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and early childhood mental health.  

The New York Times recently published an article stating that more U.S. Children than previously thought may have Fetal Alcohol Disorders.  I was so excited to see this article published in such a high profile publication, because Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) have been an area of interest, expertise, and advocacy for Adoptions Together.  We have trained professionals on symptoms of FASD, treated families affected by FASD, and advocated for policy changes to better support individuals and families affected by FASD.  We believe greater awareness and understanding of the disorders among mental health providers, pediatricians, teachers and others that care for children will lead to better care, and ultimately more support for kids and families.

However, when I sat down to write this blog, I immediately felt nervous.  Talking about FASD isn’t easy, because it involves the stigmatized behavior of drinking during pregnancy.  This is also perhaps the reason that it is not as widely identified or diagnosed as it could be. With this article as further evidence, FASD is far more common than previously thought—according to the new numbers, more common than autism. And yet there is far more conversation around and awareness of autism.  I think this reflects the larger community’s challenge in taking on these disorders.  How to we simultaneously raise awareness, support the individuals affected, and show compassion to those mothers and birth mothers who consumed alcohol during pregnancy?  The challenges of FASD are as layered as an onion, and pulling one back only exposes another.  Issues of addiction, trauma, and access to and understanding family planning all arise.

At Adoptions Together, we think it’s critical to lean into the tough conversations.  FASD affects children in the adoption community as well as children raised within their biological families, and we believe this article sheds light on a tough conversation that we want to be a part of.  Will you join us?  Together, how can we provide prevention education surrounding the effects of drinking during pregnancy, provide support for women experiencing addiction during pregnancy, and support for families parenting children with FASD on both a direct service and policy level?  In a world that can sometimes feel increasingly divided, we embrace the challenge of coming together on this issue and compel our readers to become part of this conversation.

To learn more about FASD, check out our on-demand video: “Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders” (1 hour)

About the video: Children who have been exposed to alcohol before birth often experience social, emotional, and cognitive limitations that impact every aspect of their life as they grow, and can significantly influence the life of their family.  However, with early identification, diagnosis, and appropriate intervention, children who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol can increase their potential to lead healthy, productive lives. This seminar will help parents to better understand the physical and developmental impact of prenatal alcohol exposure so that they can effectively guide and support their child.  Participants will learn effective ways to discipline and create a supportive home environment, as well as practical strategies for helping their child reach his/her full potential.

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