Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Tayside mums reveal the reality of ‘invisible condition’

by Sarah Williamson and Lesley-Anne Kelly

Dionne Campbell harvests some vegetables and apples from her garden.
Dionne Campbell harvests some vegetables and apples from her garden.

A recent report by Adoption Scotland found that more than one in three adopted children in Scotland are either diagnosed with or suspected to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Now two mums from the Tayside area, whose adopted children both have the condition, have shared their stories.

Marina Campbell, 54, has fostered Dionne since she was 10. Now aged 18, the teen was first diagnosed with FASD, which occurs in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy, when she was five years old.

Dionne finds it very difficult to follow conversations if they are going too fast, Marina says, and has stock phrases that she can use to make it seem as if she is keeping up with the discussions – especially with her friends.

“It’s very stressful for her, it’s very hard work,” Marina, who lives in the Coupar Angus area, explains.

“She very much will do what’s suggested so she’s quite vulnerable. If a stranger spoke to her on the bus they would be her best friend, so she doesn’t get out alone.

“She finds it difficult to remember her tasks all the time, so there is a very tight daily routine of what she does. Simple tasks that she knows can, some days, be completely forgotten.”

Dionne Campbell, who has Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, harvests some vegetables and apples from her garden, Picture by Kim Cessford / DCT Media

Although Dionne is 18 years old, her mental age – some days – can be around four or five years old.

“She’s not great at reading,” Marina says.

“She will read a book while listening to the audio tape or she will watch a movie repeatedly.

“She is 18 but she will chill with CBeebies and that’s never going to change. This is who she will still be when she is in her 40s.”

Marina became her permanent foster carer two years ago and says that Dionne is currently attending a life skills course at college.

“That’s fantastic because it gives her the feeling of further education, it gives her life skills,” she explains.

“They have a flat where they teach them cookery, they talk about social skills, they talk about safety and that lasts three or four years.

“They will also identify if your child has any strengths and if they would manage something like a photography course in college.

“Dionne’s passion seems to be geared towards gardening, growing vegetables and things. Fingers crossed she will find something once her course is finished.”

Speaking about some of the challenges of her condition, Dionne said: “Some of my friends talk about things and I don’t understand what they are talking about. I just have to go with what they are saying.

“I did gardening in the high school and at the college. I like just being outside, learning and growing vegetables. I do the gardening at the house.”

Dionne also enjoys visiting the cinema with her friends.

Marina adds: “She makes a mean apple crumble. She’s also very competent at cutting the grass and all those kinds of things. It’s not just growing fruit and veg, it’s everything in the garden.”

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