Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does FASD Affect A Child's Ability To Bond?


From time to time I get the question, "If B's attachment problems are from early childhood trauma, why doesn't Joseph have the same struggles?" Since both boys experienced the same living conditions and came into care at the same time, this is a logical question.

For a long time Dean and I wondered the same thing. It is true that B was a bit older than Joseph was when he came into care, but attachment disorder happens in early childhood versus as an older child. A child can and will develop similar symptoms if he is in an unstable environment but having had a bond previously, he will generally not struggle to the same extent as a child who has never bonded with anyone.

I think Joseph escaped full blown RAD partly because of B, he had someone with whom he connected. Even though it was not a healthy bond, his brain was still exercised in that area. The boys had what is referred to as a trauma bond. They bonded on trauma and kept recreating that trauma to experience the connection.

Both boys have FASD but Joseph is affected more severely than his brother. It is common for each consecutive sibling to be more affected as the birth mom's alcohol consumption is often directly related to the amount of stress/responsibility she faces. We feel Joseph's degree of FASD is part of his saving grace. We may be wrong but it seems that his inability to differentiate between fact and reality somehow protected him. FASD has affected his ability to feel both physical and emotional pain. Thus things like hunger, didn't give him the same sense of panic it would give another child. The flip side is that his body kept score of what he was enduring and we have ongoing food issues because of it.

Because of his FASD, Joseph lives in a black and white world. When we are "nice" to him (doing what he wants us to) he loves us with an adoration that warms our hearts. But when he is angry with us, usually over some preconceived wrong that we have done, his brain abandons all common sense and any attachment to us is out the window. He is all fight or flight. So in many ways he acts like a child with an attachment disorder, requiring us to parent him as such because of the damage done to his brain by alcohol.

If I were to fill out a form listing the criteria necessary for the diagnosis of an attachment disorder, it is quite possible Joseph would meet many of the requirements. If we never has experience with RAD, I think we would probably feel Joseph has an attachment disorder. As it is, we know that these children are manipulative, love to triangulate and do anything they can to keep a wall between them and their parents. Joseph does some of these things but not consistently. His rages are interspersed with times of deep love and a connection with us, something a child with a true attachment disorder does not do. He can be manipulative but it is usually because he is trying to meet a need he cannot or didn't think to verbalize, rather than actively trying to get people on his side. He rages when he is faced with a situation that overwhelms him although the rages would be better described as meltdowns. The hard part is figuring out what is overwhelming. Because his brain functions at various capacities, what is fun and enjoyable one day may well cause an all out yelling match complete with him running away, the next.

So does Joseph have an attachment disorder? No, but he has many of the symptoms, and needs to parented as though he does. His difficulties stem from brain damage that causes an inability to bond, brain damage that cannot be "fixed" with any amount of therapy or medication.

Please do not assume that a child with FASD cannot bond, because every person is affected differently. On the same note, those with FASD can also have RAD, and many of them do. Each and every person is different due to genetics, when and to what they have been exposed as well as the amount of care they receive in their young years.

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