Friday, December 18, 2009


I interviewed a fellow with fasd—fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I figured I should get his advice about a project I have been working toward, a project that starts in January, a psycho-educational hope group for parents who have fasd.
The group is the brainchild of a former Hope Foundation practicum student, Dorothy Henneveld. Working for Catholic Social Services, she organizes programs for families affected by fasd. She knows we run psycho-educational hope groups and she wondered if we could work with Catholic Social Services to run one for parents who have fasd.
Fasd affects the executive function of the brain. It influences intelligence, mood and behaviour. People with fasd tend to live in the moment. They often find it difficult to plan for the future. Those who become parents are often single parents, managing with very little money, assailed by mood swings and gaps in intellectual functioning. They find it difficult to cope, and some of them become quite isolated.
I have some experience in talking about hope with people who have fasd. Those conversations tend to be interesting, and people seem to benefit from them.
There was a time when hardly any people with fasd were diagnosed. Even if they had been, there was little or no help for them. But things are changing. Catholic Social Services has a mentorship program in place. For our joint project they will arrange child-care and transportation for parents who want to attend the group. One of their mentors will sit in as a co-facilitator. All this will help a great deal.
That said, running the group will present some challenges. I want to have the best possible group, hence my reason for conducting this interview with somebody who knows fasd from the inside.
Me: “I am going to be running a group for parents who have fasd. I want the group to be a place where they can talk about being parents—you know, learn things and talk about problems they might be having. What problems do you think they might have?”
Him: “A lot of noise and fighting in the house. We tend to drive our parents crazy.”
Me: “Oh, I don’t mean kids with fasd. I mean parents who have it. What kind of problems do you think they would have?”
Him: “None if they take my advice. I’d just tell them to smoke a reefer and that will just settle them down so nothing will bother them.”
Now I know why I asked. I needed to get the feel for the way things could go in the group. I know this guy. He’s about one-quarter serious, and three-quarters having me on, trying to get a rise out of me.
Me: “Okay. I’ll tell them I asked you for advice and you said just smoke a reefer and everything will feel okay.”
Him: “You’ll get fired if you tell them to smoke up. Maybe you shouldn’t do that.”
Me: “I’m a bit worried about that. That’s why I’m doing research to find out what I should do with the group.”
Him, feeling the pressure: “How should I know what you should do? I’m not a parent. Go ask a parent.”
Me, in self-defence: “I don’t know any parents with fasd yet. You are my wisest contact. That’s why I am asking your advice. I don’t want to do it wrong. How do you think they will feel if I go in there and lecture them about having fasd and how that makes it hard to be a parent?”
Him: “Stupid.”
Me: “That’s what worries me. You see, I want the group to be a respectful place where people will feel comfortable to talk about things and learn things.”
Him: “Then think of some questions, and go around the room and make sure every person has a chance to answer. Then they can learn from each other. One person will say they have this problem or that problem and another person will say they used to have that problem but it got solved this or that way.”
Me, wanting to dig deeper: “Good suggestion. You know that people with fasd sometimes have trouble reading. Do you think that would cause any problems if they were parents?”
Him: “They have to get somebody else to read their kids homework once they get to grade 4 or so. That’s what I’m telling you. People will have ideas. You don’t have to know everything. Just let them talk. That’s one thing we are really good at—talking.”
I think I heard that somewhere recently, maybe last month in Saskatoon when I was running a hope retreat for parents who have raised or are raising children with fasd. One of them said, “These kids with fasd are really good at talking.”
That, come to think of it, is a very good reason for asking advice on how to run the group.

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