Diagnosis of any illness, affliction or disorder is paramount. How else can you treat someone if you don’t know where the problem lies? When it comes to diagnosing FASD, it can be a very time sensitive issue because failure to identify it can lead to long-term setbacks in a person’s mental stability, education, acceptance into society and even their own parenting ability in the future. Because of this, it’s a natural reaction of caregivers to jump right into general treatment once the initial diagnosis is reached. It’s a sudden relief to know that the child isn’t just “bad” and the caregivers didn’t fail in their guidance as much as choose the wrong approach.
As important as that umbrella diagnosis is, we must realize that it is only the beginning. It isn’t the solution – it is the starting point.
Many people with FASD deal with several co-occurring disorders. These are separate issues that are a direct result of FASD factors. These are typically mental health and substance use disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). These disorders are often thought to be independent, and treatable as such, when their connection to FASD is not recognized:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Sensory integration disorder
- Reactive Attachment Disorder
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
If a FASD diagnosis takes place, but these co-occurring disorders are not addressed as part of the whole, then optimal treatment will never be reached. Imagine you have a pan catch fire on your stove. It begins to spread out to your kitchen. Your first reaction is to turn off the burner, of course. It’s the source of the fire. But, if you do not also put out the small flames that have spread to the curtain or wall – the damage will continue.
Often these secondary disorders are identified according to their symptoms, but not properly associated with their catalyst: FASD. Misdiagnosis such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, bipolar, depression, antisocial, borderline personality and even Autism can occur. While indicators may be similar between FASD co-occurring disorders and disorders such as Autism and ADHD – there are defining differences that require a specific approach to achieve the best results from therapy and treatment. So how do you manage FASD and co-occurring disorders effectively?
A Strengths Based Approach
The key to reaching the best result is to focus not on weakness of the disorder(s), but on the strengths of the individual. What do they do well? What things do they enjoy or excel at? Including the strengths of the supporting family, caregivers and even the community works toward the common goal of uplifting those with FASD and the support group they rely on.
Don’t Concentrate on the Labels
Beyond the terms. Beyond the diagnosis. Beyond the treatment methods. FASD is a human issue. It should always be about the person, not their actions. Instead of asking “How do we stop them from doing that?” ask “What does this person need in order to be successful (function at their best) and how do we help them achieve that?”
People with an FASD (and their families) have great potential. Remind them of what they’ve accomplished, not when they’ve struggled.
I was asked, as part of a campaign with Brandfluential, to attend a set of webinars presented by MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to spread awareness about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). This is part 2 of 3. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can follow along with the next two installments in the coming weeks. For more information about FASD – visit MOFAS.org