As a first-time prospective adoptive parent filling out a special needs preference list, I approached it with the question, “If I were able to have a biological child, would there be a chance he could be born with this condition?” I do not drink alcohol, nor have I ever used illegal drugs, so on my first preference list, I indicated I would not take a child with possible drug/alcohol exposure.

When we were ready to adopt for a second time, I had done more research about the effects of drugs and alcohol on a developing fetus. By no choice of their own, these babies’ developing bodies and minds are affected. They too need a loving, nurturing home. I have since adopted two children who were drug-exposed. Here are some things you need to know if you are adopting a child who was drug-exposed or may have FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome).

1. You may see the effects of exposure right away.

These manifest as:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Withdrawal symptoms

2. You may not see the effects of exposure for years. Symptoms that might take longer to emerge include:

  • Behavioral issues such as ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder
  • Lowered IQ
  • Sensory processing disorder

3. There is no “cure.”

Work with professionals to treat the resulting behaviors or delays.

  • Occupational and physical therapy
  • Psychiatric interventions
  • Pediatric developmental screenings
  • Medication

4. Take appropriate steps with your child’s school to best educate him/her.

  • 504 plan allows for accommodations to be made in the classroom
  • IEP (individualized education program) allows your child additional instruction within or outside of the classroom setting

5. Remember it is not your child’s fault.

  • Demonstrate love and understanding
  • Don’t blame or show disrespect to his/her birth mother

6. It’s not your fault either.

  • Don’t blame your parenting for misbehavior
  • Seek personal help, if needed
  • Take time out for yourself to rejuvenate

7. Having a child with any type of special need affects the whole family.

  • Include siblings in understanding FAS and drug exposure
  • Include family in therapy sessions and coping strategies

In one study, children who were drug-exposed and placed in an adoptive home showed better cognitive and language development than those who remained with their birth mothers. These children had a stable home environment with better-educated parents than those who remained in biological parental custody.

It has been challenging raising children with behavioral issues that may have resulted from prenatal drug exposure, but we love them and are willing to do whatever it takes to help them grow and develop. If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t change a thing. They are ours for better or for worse.

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