Melanie and Natalie Lane
Melanie is a 51-year-old, single parent of a 27-year-old daughter, Natalie, who has fetal alcohol effects (FAE). Melanie was an alcoholic throughout her pregnancy and for eight years after the delivery of her daughter. Then she entered Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and became clean and sober. Melanie is now a substance abuse counselor for women.
Natalie was not diagnosed until she was 10 years old. She has a normal IQ however; she has problems with impulse control, difficulty with mathematical problems (dyscalculia), severe dental problems, hearing loss and chronic ear infections. These types of symptoms are what define fetal alcohol effects, but she does not have the full blown syndrome. She did graduate from high school.
Early on in Natalie’s education, she received speech therapy through the public school system. “These kids often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed,” Melanie said, “so there isn’t a lot of intervention to help them address issues they may face.” The mental health system doesn’t even acknowledge FASD/FAE as an issue, therefore education is severely lacking. This is very frustrating as Mental Retardation Authorities (MRAs) need more training, she said.
Melanie was so guilty and full of shame that she did not tell her daughter about FAE until she was older. She found an article that had a photo of what FAS looks like in children and showed it to her daughter. She said that Natalie took the picture and went into the bathroom and placed the photo next to her face to compare herself to the picture. This was very difficult for them both.
It is common for these children to be misdiagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or bi-polar, etc. and be placed on heavy anti-psychotic medications which often are contraindicated for FASD or FAE syndromes. The medications can actually cause more damage to the children, Melanie said. She suggests a mandatory FASD screening for all children entering the system via Child Protective Custody. However, this must be done in conjunction with education. Even if FASD is diagnosed, there are limits in what the service system can do. More education and training is needed at the front door.
Canada is the world leader in treating FASD, Melanie said, and she suggested that Texas look at their system and use what is working there to help these children and their families.