A week before Thanksgiving, 2014, I went to see a pediatric geneticist in Albany, NY—and, at age 35, was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The diagnosis came a little late in life because I was adopted, and little was known about my birth mother until I began doing research a few years ago. Since the diagnosis, I have created new ways of thinking about things and getting things done. I want to share some coping strategies that have been successful for me, so that parents, educators, and employers to be able to have a list to refer to when they need ideas for assisting a person with FAS when it comes to being successful in day-to-day activities.
1. Keep multitasking to a minimum. I often try to do more than one thing at once. Sometimes this works—most times, not. Case in point: I had a napkin to throw out in the trash and a baby bottle to put in the sink. Both went in the trash, then I stood at the sink empty-handed. Now my strategy is to slow down and do one thing at a time. I know life is busy. We have things to do, people to see, work, kids, playing chauffeur. But I have noticed if I take things down a notch, one step at a time, I don’t lose time because I do things correctly the first time and do not have to fix my errors. I also remain calmer, and my impulsivity remains at bay. Speaking of which . . .
2. Breathe to manage impulsive behavior. Take deep breaths when you feel yourself getting “revved up.” I have started going to a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist for my impulsivity, and he is teaching me “mindfulness.” Basically, mindfulness is thinking before you act. This sounds simple, but to us with FAS, it takes active concentration and effort to take the time to stop, breathe, and think of the action about to be completed. Think about what the consequences will be if you take the action. Are there negative consequences? What are they? Who can and will this action affect? Practicing mindfulness makes it easier to control impulsivity.
3. Learn your limits. I have become acutely aware that big stores with bright florescent lights and lots of aisles and lots of people make me dizzy, light-headed, and cranky. I have realized that it is too much stimulus for my brain. Unfortunately, as a mom of two little ones, I sometimes find it necessary to shop at these places. I have discovered that I can best handle these stores in small increments. I find writing a list and abiding by it helps. I do my best not to deviate from the list. (If I have my children, this can be a little more difficult!) While in the store I focus on breathing in and out to keep calm and collected.
4. Use words, not maps. I have never been successful at looking at maps and using them to get from point A to point B. I find that if each step in a set of directions is written out, I am successful. For me to return from point B to point A, the directions have to be written down again—this time in reverse. I find myself having a little difficulty if I try to reverse the original ones in my head.
5. Do a little bit every day. I used to keep all of my laundry . . . and my husband’s . . . and my two children’s . . . until the weekend. It never got finished, and part of the reason is because I would feel so overwhelmed by the huge piles I would shut down. I would also get testy with my husband. Now, at least once every other day (sometimes every day), I throw a load in the washer and a load in the dryer and always fold at least one load. I find myself so much less stressed, and I don’t mind doing the laundry anymore, because the huge piles are not there. My solution has been working, and making my marriage happier, and keeping everyone clothed! I find myself doing this with many things at home. I wash dishes as soon as I am done using them. I straighten up one room a day, and my family helps out as well. There is nothing wrong with everyone taking responsibility in keeping the house clean and tidy.
6. Create outlines for sentence and paragraph organization. I have always struggled to write cohesive research papers, and in my current job, I always have to edit my proposals. ALWAYS. I have found that if I use bullet points to get my ideas down, it’s much easier for me to put my ideas in chronological order. Once I have my ideas in bullet points, I will either leave them that way, if it is acceptable, or put them into paragraph form. If you have to write papers or proposals, try the bullet point method. I would even ask your employer or teacher if you can write using bullet points to convey the information. It is worth asking.
7. Use a calendar, or multiple calendars. After my diagnosis, I decided I needed a good way to keep track of everyone’s schedules and when daycare and aftercare money was due. I went out and bought a huge wall calendar, and went to work putting every event on it. I then took out my phone and put the same events on my phone calendar. Now, the hard part for me is remembering to add things to the calendars and then look at them EVERY DAY. They do work, though, and eliminate the stress of trying to remember things and/or forgetting special and important events.