Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada

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Don’t Stress the Caregiver!

We Are Only Human!

Don't Stress The Caregiver!

Don’t Stress The Caregiver!

We caregivers of children with FASD often find their personal behaviors overwhelming. But the strategies offered us by the professionals can equally cause stress. “Be prepared,” we are told. “Know when a meltdown is imminent. Stay on top of the situation. Know what sets your child off and use preventative measures.”

That’s all well and good, but what if your child with FASD has an outburst on arriving home from school and you have no idea what has set him/her off. Or, how about children who melt down three or four times a day. Staying one step ahead of that child is nigh on impossible, not to mention stressful. Who can live that way?

Don’t Stress The Caregiver!

Certainly not a caregiver who has other children in the home, plus works outside the home, plus has to prepare supper on arriving home, plus has to see to the household chores and grocery shopping, plus has to drive the kids here, there, and everywhere. The last thing caregivers want added to their to-do list is to be on high-alert for a possible meltdown. We are, after all, only human!

Besides, most meltdowns do not stem from a trigger of the moment, but rather an incident that happened early that morning; one we overlooked, one we were too busy to notice, one that happened out of sight, the ones we couldn’t keep one step ahead of because we were unaware of the problem.

Don’t Stress The Caregiver!

Being expected to stay ahead of the meltdown is similar to telling an individual to stay one step ahead of an abusive spouse–always know when he is going to lash out, don’t react to his screaming, stay calm when he yells obscenities, don’t take his threats personally. It is impossible not to react, and I know that to be true because I was involved in an abusive relationship for five years and describe that time in my memoir: Psychopathetic, available now at and Also available is my memoir: Two Decades Of Diapers, describing my twenty years raising four grandchildren with FAS. My new memoir, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Teen Years, will be available early 2016.

Don’t Stress The Caregiver!

So before blaming the caregiver for not having the ability to offset their child’s meltdowns, consider the intensity, stress, and fear associated with the outburst, not only on the child’s side, but for the caregiver too. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child but, when a child with FASD meltdowns in public, the village citizens often band together and blame the caregiver!

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FASD and Duct Tape!

Hope the title didn’t mislead you! But when a child has FASD it seems EVERYTHING has to be secured to avoid injury.

I remember duct tape being my best friend. One day, many years ago when my grandchildren with FASD were youngsters, on hearing–Mom, come and see!–I went from the kitchen into the living room to see all four tucked neatly into the shelving of the TV unit. They had climbed the shelves and curled up one atop another with the youngest being at the bottom with the door closed.

They were giggling and squirming making the unit shake and creak and look as if any minute it would collapse! After freaking, I purchased cheap plastic panels; those awful opaque yellow ones that were so popular back then, cut them to size and duct taped them over the shelving with enough tape that the panels could not be removed. Goodness, it looked awful–but safe!

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FASD Feelings

Kids with FASD often believe their feelings or opinions are worthless, therefore it’s important to distinguish and label emotions so the individual can more easily recognize and express their feelings. offers a booklet titled: FASD Strategies and Solutions. There I found a page on Feelings and Emotions which reads: “…. teach emotions in a concrete way (e.g. smiling means happy).”

  • A “check-in” time for internal feelings will help in stating which feelings are physical and concrete.
  • After an outburst, talk about what your child felt during the meltdown; for example, a beating heart, sweaty hands, hot face. Attach the concrete feeling to the meltdown so she can begin to identify what feelings are connected to certain behaviours.
  • In order to be able to act appropriately to any emotion, your child must first have some way to recognize concretely what she is feeling. That feeling must then be named and “rules” for appropriate reaction to that feeling must be made.
  • Create a “feelings” dictionary, using line-drawings of complete stick men rather than just facial expressions for those most common feelings the child is likely to experience. A complete body can show more than just a face and is much easier for the child to associate with what he is feeling. Have one emotion per page.
  • Always name emotions very clearly. With teens and adults, name the emotion first and then follow with the words their friend’s use (“angry” vs. “pissed off”).
  • To encourage emotional expression, use a gingerbread man outline drawing and simple colour codes (e.g. red for anger, blue for sad, yellow for happy, and gray for blank). Have your child colour on the gingerbread man where he has those feelings. This can give you a quick and immediate idea of the state of emotional health (e.g., red in the head and the hands is a good indicator of being ready to “lose it”; gray in the head and on the body is a good indication of being “shut down”). this will help, especially when the child is not able to verbalize her thoughts and feelings.
  • Once the feeling is identified correctly, have a simple plan to help the child. For instance:
  1. “Losing it” – use calm down technique.
  2. Caregiver is “ticked off” – stand still, look at caregiver and listen.
  3. “Tired” – lie down and rest.
  4. “Frustrated” – have a list of physical activities that she can do and have her choose between two.
  5. “Angry” – express it physically in a previously identified acceptable and safe manner.

Do not expect: 

  • Insight
  • Application of yesterday’s learning to today’s experiences
  • That the child will remember a feeling from one time to the next without support.

The child will not necessarily be able to understand the emotions of others just because we were not able to help her understand her own.