On Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Medications

by L.S. Kelley

One of the biggest challenges we face with our FASD kids is the inability to find a med that "works." Our kids display a wide range of symptoms that look like many different diagnoses. They have anxiety issues, ADHD type behaviors, autistic tendencies, mild cerebral palsy, obsessive compulsive behaviors, disrupted sleep cycles, mild attachment issues, and the like. The research says that meds often don't work on kids with FASD because the meds have been created to work on specific symptoms related to specific disorders instead of a global disorder (FASD) that manifests a cross-section of symptoms. One of the markers our neurologist used in diagnosing FASD in one of our sons was the "unmedicatable hyperactivity."

When stimulants don't work for a child, it's a pretty good indicator that the child isn't truly ADD/ADHD despite the incredible inattentiveness and hyperactivity. The same is true for many of the symptom/diagnosis-specific drugs out there. So many of us have tried an incredibly long list of drugs at different dosages and levels only to find they don't work on our kids. Others have found that one drug that has managed the worst of the issues and allows the child to hold on for much of their day. Meds are very much a "band-aid" and they have very mixed success if a child has FASD. Adults with FASD sometimes share what trying the meds has been like for them and many of them do not take them because they simply don't touch the issues that affect them.

I will never forget our neuro telling us that we will never find the "magic pill." At best, we can hope to find a cocktail of drugs that will aid in managing the most disruptive of our children's symptoms -- and those will change with growth spurts, maturity and stress. We do use meds, but stability is hard to come by. If you have a child who isn't responding to meds, it may well be that they have something bigger going on (like FASD) than the diagnosis at hand would indicate.

[This essay originally appeared on PEP-L, an e-mail list for parents of children adopted from Eastern Europe.]

copyright (c) 2005 by L.S. Kelley 

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