Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Today’s post is written by Lesley, perhaps more commonly known as Scottish Mum. Lesley is an adoptive parent, and is passionate about informing and educating about the damage that drinking in pregnancy can cause, as she parents children with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and knows first hand the challenges that children with FAS can have.


Adoption and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) are often linked.  There are very few children waiting to be adopted that haven’t suffered trauma of some kind in their tiny short lives.

When I talk about FAS, I often get the derisory looks, the half snigger or the curl of an upper lip as many think it’s just an excuse for badly behaved children.  What people don’t seem to realise is that alcohol in pregnancy can and does cause very real problems for children who have been exposed to it, and their future lives.

When any of us consider adopting a child, we need to look at the life the child has led before they come to us.

FAS can be life changing and cause total devastation for whole families where children grow up and their struggles are not recognised for what they are.

In adoption, there are frequently found behavioural characteristics that can be common to a lot of issues and disabilities.  

There are many conditions that can be found in children waiting to be adopted.  Foetal Alcohol is just one of them.  They may also have Attachment Disorder, ADHD, Pervasive Development Disorders  and Language Disorders  at different levels.   These are things that we should all keep in mind when we are dealing with vulnerable and sensitive children.

It’s important to remember that not all vulnerable children act meek and timid.  Many will have learned to protect themselves through aggression and they could well be outwardly confident.

My middle child arrived and spent much of his day banging his head against a wall while screaming all night long.  When our children arrive, we haven’t formed a parent/child bond and that can take a lot of time to happen if children act aggressively.  Tensions can run high in families where they are living 24/7 with difficult children while trying to create a bond, do the daily chores, fund the family and still have time for themselves.

Schooling can be difficult for adopted children with FAS.  Peer relationships can be non-existent or they may fall in with the wrong crowds who just want to take advantage of children they can sense are different.

From first hand experience of a child with a significant degree of alcohol related brain damage, I can tell you that life with a foetal alcohol child can be sheer hell for everyone concerned.  It can also be sheer bliss when they reach a milestone you never thought they’d ever meet.

On the surface, unlike the children with Full Foetal Alcohol Syndrome who are much more obviously affected with more profound special needs, many of the children affected by foetal alcohol look unaffected.  Many of them seen to have good speech patterns, they often learn to read and write easily although they often struggle with the comprehension, and they tend to be able to make their daily needs perfectly well-known.  They tend to suffer with impulsivity, short term memory problems, immaturity, immature conscience, hyperactivity and much more.

Children with FAS might also have ADHD and may only be diagnosed with one condition, but there are differences.   Where ADHD children tend to struggle to learn as their brains go to fast to process the information, the ADHD child who also has FAS is likely to eventually learn concepts, only to forget them afterwards which makes building future learning on previously learned concepts very difficult indeed.

In the right situation, children who suffer from alcohol related brain damage can do very well, but the tendency for many of them to lie, steal and be very easily influenced makes life very hard for them.  If we add the possibility of Attachment Disorder into the mix, it could make for a very difficult life indeed.

On the flipside, my children are also very loving, very attentive and very sensitive in many situations.  I don’t deny that I have found life very hard indeed at some points in their development, but we’ve got through the low points and we just sail on to the next blip on the horizon.  

None of these things should put anyone off adopting any one child, but I would recommend asking the relevant questions of the adoption agencies and finding out more about the birth family to find out what the child might have been exposed to.  

It’s much easier to deal with a situation that might arise if you know what it is than it is to try and work out what might be causing problems a decade down the line.  Being informed also allows a prospective adopter to negotiate with schooling and social services for future support which is always easier to put in place before an adoption is finalised.

You can find Lesley’s blog – Scottish Mum – here. Or contact her via twitter: @Scottish_mum or email:

3 thoughts on “Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

  1. Lindsay

    Thanks for bringing up a topic that is WAY under talked about in adoption. I remember sitting in our adoption class and the trainers brought up the fact that probably 90% of the kids that we were all about to adopt would have FASD. The other adopters were shocked and had never heard about this. It was very sad to see their reactions as obviously the dangers of drinking during pregnancy is in fact not widely known.

    I’m just wondering, in Canada we say Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder…I’m wondering if you know why the difference?

    One more bit before I stop rambling:) I supervise a mentorship and advocate program for youth 13 years to 21 years old who have confirmed or suspected FASD. These kids are Ama-zing. I love this part of my job and have learned so much through these youth.

    Thanks again for bringing this up, I hope to see more discussion about FASD and adoption:)

  2. Lesley

    Hi Lindsay. Thanks for the comment.

    There seems to be some interchange of terms depending on which doctor we speak to and how much people know.

    FASD is used here as well. Medical professionals seem to use it to cover the whole spectrum, though locally it seems to refer more to those who have Foetal Alcohol Syndrome but do not have the facial features, whereas they tend to discuss children with the facial features more as having Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Other people use the FAS term to cover all.

    I think it is an area where more clarity needs to be addressed between the countries and professions so that everyone talks about the same thing.

    The programme for 13 – 21 year olds sounds amazing.

  3. Threebecomefour

    Thanks for writing this post Lesley. FAS is part of Katie’s issues that we’re keeping aware of. She has many of the symptoms and we have never been sure of the extent to her exposure risk. Definitely binge drinking and some drugs. School have identified some processong difficulties and there are other concerns re lying and lack of conscience and remorse. She is only 6 so we’re just seeing how it goes. She’s coping ok in school so that’s positive. Bigger issues are at home. Thanks again x


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