The Protective Factor of Diagnosis and Three Ways to Help a Person with FASD

When it comes to children and any form of disability early diagnosis and intervention is often key to success. Why is that? Because having a way to frame a child’s behaviour can make all the difference in the world to how you approach that child as a parent, as a therapist, a doctor, or a school.

If you try to teach a fish to walk you end up frustrated, but worse than that you end up making the fish feel stupid. Proper diagnosis of FASD is critical to success. So why do we have such difficulty diagnosing and treating children and youth with FASD? And what is it?

FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is a brain injury sustained prenatally and caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. If a pregnant mom drinks alcohol, the baby does too.

Sadly proper diagnosis of FASD can be extremely tricky. I know this to be true from our personal experience with my daughter Ainsley. My daughter Ainsley, has FASD, ( fetal alcohol spectrum disorder). We adopted her when she was about 5 months old.

Why Is Proper Diagnosis of FASD Challenging?

There aren’t enough doctors skilled at diagnosing children with FASD. Many systems are set up on the foundation that independence is the goal for everyone. Take a look at the parenting section of the library, or the book store. Philosophies and behaviour techniques rely on consequences.

But, consequences and forced independence can actually do damage to a child with this disability.

Take it From FASD Expert Dan Dubovsky

Dan Dubovsky is an FASD specialist and an MSW at SAMHSA Center of Excellence. I have heard Dubovsky speak before and he is globally regarded as an expert in FASD. Dubovsky always resonates with me as a parent because he emphasizes the need for the right diagnosis at the right time. That’s  not just any one person’s responsibility. It’s a community effort, a human issue and responsibility. To get better at this health care providers, educators, social workers, parents, legal systems and mental health professionals all need to understand how FASD brain works.

Challenges of Proper Diagnosis:

Indeed challenges to accurate diagnosis exist in several areas.

  • Sometimes FASD looks a lot like other disorders and diagnoses. It can be mistaken for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), SPD ( sensory processing disorder), autism, ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) and Conduct Disorder.
  • According to Dubovsky FASD often also comes with numerous co-occurring disorders. The diagnosis is complex. But getting a proper diagnosis early is crucial for three reasons according to Dubovsky.
  • Not enough doctors trained in recognizing this disorder.

WHY Proper Diagnosis of FASD Is Crucial:

1. Proper diagnosis helps people to see behaviour is not mean-spirited or wilful.

2. It helps the individual with the FASD to focus on their strengths not weaknesses. (Many people with an FASD are good at sports, or good helping younger children. All children, young people and adults have something they excel at.)

3. Helps improve the outcome for individuals, families and systems.

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