Monday, February 23, 2009

LIfe's Ups and Downs

Sometimes I debate with myself about what to write about here. The fun, nice things are easy to write about, and other things are not appropriate for public sharing. Some bloggers write anonymously - they tell the foster care tales and other stories without hints of identification or location, and there are advantages to that freedom. Others blog directly for family and friends. Our readers are both -- and that sometimes presents problems. There are lots of things I'd like to write about relating to our experiences in foster care, but to protect our family's relationship with the agency, or to protect our children's privacy, I don't.

I wrote last fall about Teenager's medical illness, and asked for prayers. In January she received this award. In between, she experienced some emotional difficulties related to her times in her life before she joined our family. I didn't share that here, because I just didn't know what to say. One day things are wonderful, and the next, they may not be. Now, again, she is struggling with issues related to her past. I don't want to say too much, but also am not able to act as if everything is fine, because it definitely is not. Teenage years present challenges for all families, but for those who don't have the solid foundation of the early years to fall back on, it's especially challenging. Developing attachments and the feeling of security during adolescence is a difficult task for kids who've not experienced it early in their lives. Despite our training and experience, Father and I still experience the up and down emotions as well. Meeting the needs of individual family members, and the family as a whole is an ever-changing task. At the moment, teenager is not at home with us, and we're working on a plan for the future. We don't know yet what that plan will be. We love her, and she loves us. That much is certain. We know that God is in control, and if are open to His leading, He will show us a way; it is not necessary that WE have the answers. We pray for her, that He will keep her safe, and show her the way as well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama fan

Despite the conservative politics of this family, Granddaughter E. is an Obama fan, at least as much as you can be when you're 5. Mostly, she likes the sound of his name, and during the election, I think she would show me his picture wherever she saw it, just so she could say Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama!

Miss E. is also learning the letters and their sounds, rhyming words and other pre-school skills. We got a big laugh the other night when she excitedly told us about two words that, according to her, start the same. We were eating Mexican food for supper, and she said, "Listen! Ba-rack Obama. Ba-rack-amole." (The green condiment made from avocados - guacamole!) I think it might be called barackamole around here from now on. What do you think our new president would think about that?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nonlinear Waterfowl Issues

Ducks In a Row Pictures, Images and Photos

Yesterday I spent the day with Whistle. It was to be a school holiday, but our school made up a snow day, instead. Instead of going to school, Whistle had an appointment for a "psych eval." This is a pre-adoption requirement by the state. We feel like we have a pretty good understanding of who he is, and what his needs are, but more information is always good. More information collected by a trusted-good-friend-psychologist-and-paid-for-by-someone-other-than-us is very good.

His report was as expected -- they think he's WONDERFUL. ;-) There will eventually be an official diagnosis, of course, but that one's close enough for me. I've always had difficulty accepting the numeric specifics of delays and disabilities. I will never forget when Hugger was very young, and I heard the words "3 months progress in 12 months." (Thankfully, I don't think they even use terminology like that any more.) I don't think I heard anything else in that meeting from then on. Those numbers were devastating to me. I am fine with kids who are delayed, and can easily work on whatever comes next in developmental order. I appreciate all the little steps of progress, enjoy the strengths each kiddo shows, and appreciate the little quirks that help up to make their fun personalities. Just don't tell me 3 months progress in 12 months. ARRRRGGG! As to Whistle's testing and interview yesterday, his verbal skills were commented on, not because he uses unusual vocabulary, or talks in perfect logical sentences, but the assessors confirmed what we've heard before. "He talks like an adult." It's hard to put a finger on the specifics - but that does describe him well. A friend of a friend just last week said "I want to meet that little guy. He's about this big, but he talks like he's 42!" We are thankful that his personality is an asset to him. He enriches our days, and his strengths may help him through some rough patches in the future.

In other news: today we attended a court hearing -- one of those that was supposed to be decision making, but instead it was set again for a later time. Apparently a few of those at the front tables had Nonlinear Waterfowl Issues (in other words - they didn't have their ducks in a row!)
There will be another hearing, next month, and then the decision making sometime after that. This case is a good example of the things we tell families in foster care training often that do not match up with what they experience in real life. We try to prepare them for case specific circumstances. It's hard though, when the answer to every question a class member asks is prefaced with, "It depends . . ." That's the reality of the situation, though. We've been around foster care case management for years, but still, every single case is different, and so are workers, supervisors, juvenile offices, judges, counties, and states. And unfortunately, "12 consecutive months, or 15 out of 22 months" might seem to be very specific, but I can assure you, "It depends . . . ."
And those duck issues don't help, either.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Doll's Special Feeding

This weekend, Father and I finally got to have our "weekend away" that has been planned several times this winter. This time we actually made a reservation, and enjoyed two nights and one day in a Victorian Bed and Breakfast near us. You don't have to be far away in miles to be miles away in thought, and it was a wonderful relaxing break for us. Thanks, Father! I love you! We returned just in time for church today, and had a good day there, too, with several visitors.

When we walked in this afternoon, Father called me in to Whistle's room to see that while we were gone, granddaughter E. had been playing with her new doll, which was lying in Whistle's bed with a feeding pump bag hanging from the pole, and tubing tucked into her clothes. When we asked her about it, she said, "She has to eat, to grow and be healthy!"

Children learn what they live -- so it's a great reminder to be careful how we're living, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

100% Preventable

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and related disorders are the only 100% preventable birth defects. No alcohol during pregnancy means no alcohol effect for the the baby. The alcohol affects the baby in utero, but the effect doesn't stop there, it follows the child/adult for his entire life. The following article is copied from the Fairmont Sentinel. I admire Kari for her work in this field, for sharing her expertise, and her family's daily life with the rest of us so we may benefit from her experience. I am sharing this today so that others may also learn, and may be more understanding of those who live with disabilities that may not always show, but affect every day of their lives. Many foster children, in fact many children in general, live with alcohol affected brains, and science and medicine are just beginning to catch up.

Please, if there is any possibility of pregnancy, observe 049, which means "Zero alcohol for nine months." It's the least you can do, to totally avoid the possibility of your baby's brain being damaged by alcohol, which changes his entire life.

Thank you, Kari, for all you do.

Fletcher: Disorder is preventable

Kylie Saari — Staff Writer
FAIRMONT - Ben is 11 years old. He looks like an average child; he has an average IQ. But when he gets frustrated, he becomes unable to control his rage.
"School is the most frustrating part of life right now," said his adoptive mother, Kari Fletcher. "Ben would get frustrated and flip into a rage and flip over desks and would have to be hauled to the time out room."
Ben's brain has been damaged, an irreversible side effect of his biological mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
And his suffering - along with that of his family - was 100 percent preventable.
Fletcher has dedicated her life to educating people about the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. She is the southern Minnesota regional resource coordinator for the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The Rotary Club of Fairmont is sponsoring a seminar on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders given by Fletcher Thursday at the Fairmont Opera House.
Phil Smith, a member of the Rotary Club, said Fletcher presented the information at a Rotary meeting last year.
"We thought, 'Wow! This is 100 percent preventable, so if we could get this out to as many people as (possible), that would be a good thing,'" Smith said.
Fletcher said fetal alcohol syndrome disorder is a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity of the birth defects fall on a continuum.
"Most people don't have full blown fetal alcohol syndrome, with the facial features and small bodies," Fletcher said. "Most people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders look pretty normal, have average IQs. The problem is with the frontal lobe, the part of the brain that tells us to stop and have a second thought. It influences impulse control, lets kids plan things out and to learn something in one setting and apply it in another setting.
"This is important to surviving in our society."
According to Fletcher, the specific damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol depends on when during the pregnancy the mother took a drink. She said the recognizable facial disfiguration - including a flat groove above the lip, a thin upper lip and shortened eyes - seems to be most prevalent when the mother consumes alcohol during the first few weeks of pregnancy - often even before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Brain damage, low birth weight, malformed organs and miscarriage are also effects of alcohol exposure while in utero.
One of the reasons alcohol consumption during pregnancy is so damaging, Fletcher said, is because it goes directly into the baby's blood stream.
"It directly crosses the placenta," she said. "When mom drinks alcohol, the baby's blood alcohol level matches the mom's, but the mom has a mature elimination system. The baby stays 'drunk' longer and doesn't have the mature liver to process it out."
Since the alcohol stays with the fetus longer, there is more time for it to kill or alter brain cells. Fletcher said specialized cells can get rerouted and end up in the wrong part of the brain.
"The child has all the information up there sometimes, but can't access it," she said. "The brain is very vulnerable."
And this disorder doesn't just affect children.
"(People with FASD) can have trouble holding a job, have a hard time in school, and really struggle in our fast paced, abstract society," Fletcher said.
It wasn't until the 1970s that doctors identified fetal alcohol syndrome. The range of disorders on the spectrum - including partial fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder and fetal alcohol effects - weren't identified until later, when doctors noticed children with the behavioral and neurological effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, but without the facial features and small stature.
Fletcher pointed out that many people have recognized specific similarities in the children of alcohol-addicted mothers.
"It has been noted throughout history," she said.
"I don't believe any mom means to do this."
Because the symptoms of FASD tend to be invisible - and because of the stigma of a woman admitting to a doctor she drank during pregnancy - fetal alcohol spectrum disorders often are misdiagnosed.
Ben was first diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, Fletcher said.
"The ADHD medications didn't work," she said. "With Ben it made him more aggressive."
Fletcher said that while the symptoms may seem similar between disorders, their underlying cause - and therefore how they are treated - is vastly different.
Ben was eventually diagnosed with alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder.
Fletcher knew about his disability when he was adopted. She and her husband were Ben's foster parents. After adopting him, the family learned Ben's biological mother had another child needing a home, and the Fletchers adopted her too. Anna is 6 years old and suffers from a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as well. The couple also have four biological children.
Despite the bleak circumstances fetal alcohol spectrum disorder children have to overcome, Fletcher stresses that this diagnosis is not a death sentence. The key is determining strategies for helping them find success.
"It's like this," she said. "I have a brain deficiency myself, and I don't know where it comes from, but I have a lack of direction. I can study a map all day and not know north. But I travel all over the state. I have to use a map drawn by my husband or Mapquest. I look at my kids and ask myself, 'What can I pull in to help them?' These kids are not lazy, willful or defiant."
For women who are pregnant and maybe had a drink before they knew it, or perhaps even after they did, Fletcher says not to panic.
"Different amounts affect different fetuses," she said. "Timing is a factor, as well as the baby's resiliency."
But if down the road the child has an attention problem, she says not to hesitate to find a doctor familiar with the disorder and have the child tested.
"Many women talk about the pregnancy police," Fletcher said. "'You can't do this, you can't do that,' but I say this isn't about what you can't do, it is about what you can do. This is a disability that you can 100 percent prevent. Wow, you have incredible power."
There are two free educational workshops to choose from during Fletcher's seminar on Thursday - one from 1-4:30 p.m., the other 6:30-9:15 p.m. Three continuing education credits are available with pre-registration and a $20 fee. The deadline for CEU registration is Wednesday. Call (507) 238-4382 to register.