Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Helping Alcohol-Affected Toddlers Learn

I'm reading through standard literature on FASD. One of the books in my pile is edited by Judith Kleinfeld and Siobhan Wescott, Fantastic Antone Succeeds: Experiences in Educating Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (University of Alaska Press,1993). For my friends who are parenting or are about to bring home a child who was prenatally exposed to alcohol, I want to highlight one chapter in the book, "Early Intervention for Alcohol-Affected Children Birth to Age Three," by Jan Hinde.

"Alcohol exposed" does not always equate with being "alcohol affected" and in the toddler years it may be difficult to guess whether a child's behaviors are due to personality, or to the adoption transition, or to the foster parents' style, or if it reflects their alcohol exposure. The knowledge that the child was exposed can undermine our confidence in our parenting: how do we know if we can/should hold our child to typical behavioral standards when we don't yet know if those are within his reach?

Parents of newly adopted toddlers puzzling over that conundrum will find Hinde's chapter helpful. You might consider it the less-scary, more hopeful equivalent of Mary Hopkin's Best's book on toddler adoption: if your child is among those affected by his exposure, Hinde's "cookbook" of early intervention strategies that have proven effective with alcohol-exposed toddlers will be a ready-reference.

If you have any doubt about whether your child may be affected by his exposure, this would be a conservative, "first do no harm," approach while you observe, experiment, and try to sort matters out. Because kids with FASD can be attachment challenged, Hinde's strategies specifically foster attachment. And because kids with FASD are frequently language and/or processing delayed, her advice is also highly relevant for newly adopted toddlers, who, regardless of exposure, are managing cultural and language transitions. These strategies have the added plus of being foundational to parenting kids with FASD.

If I could dial back the clock to Hope's toddler years and drop the thought into my head, "You may be parenting a child who was affected by her exposure to alcohol," I would have wondered, "Then what should I try doing differently?" Hindes' chapter would have been a place to start.

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