I read an interesting article this week that talked about how children with prenatal exposure to alcohol are often misdiagnosed with behavioral issues when, in fact, they likely have undiagnosed Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. At first, I was all, “Well thanks for that,Captain Obvious” and then I realized that I’m guilty of the same thing in a sort of round about way. Or not so round about.
We all know kids with diagnosed or undiagnosed FASD have lots of “behaviors” that make them look non-compliant. They jump around, they can be defiant, they don’t listen, they don’t do what you want them to do, they have meltdowns that can go own for freakin’ ever, and they don’t learn from consequences. In short, they can make teachers and parents a little crazy.
When the workers are at my house (usually there are 3) we spend a lot of time talking about the boys “behaviors”. And I’m sure they spend a lot of time writing about said behaviors. It’s part of the documentation and recording process for kids in care and for me, it’s therapeutic to share and debrief about what’s being going down.
But then I started wondering what would happen if we stopped referring to our kids in terms of all the things they don’t do? What if behaviors aren’t really behaviors, but symptoms of the organic brain damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure? Because that’s exactly what those behaviors are. They’re symptoms.
One of the best books you’ll ever read on FASD is from Diane Malbin who wrote “Trying Differently, Not Harder” because she explains this brain thing so well and gives concrete ideas for seeing your child has having symptoms rather than behaviors.
Having read this book (more than once), I have no idea why I continue to discuss behaviors with the social workers or daycare staff. They are symptoms!
I feel like I need to write a big sign and hang it on my wall to remind myself to lose the word behaviors. Or maybe tattoo it on my head or something. I think it has to do with having raised a pack of bio-kids… the behavior language and thinking seems to stick around because that’s kind of how regular parenting works. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. It’s hard to change 25 years of a parenting mindset.
So that was a total “aha moment” for me this week!
If we want to change how we see and work with our kids, it starts with us. We can remind ourselves to think about the differences between symptoms vs behaviors.
Once you start doing that, it takes the whole “bad kid” thing out of the equation. It will change how you see your child which is a pretty great thing. Because when you have kids with behaviors, that’s a negative at so many level. I think the worst, at least for me, is the belief that behaviors can change. You know…because of things like behavior management or behavior modification. Or here’s a sticker if you do this thing I want. #crazymaking
But when you’re working with symptoms, you manage those symptoms. It’s like asthma. If someone has asthma we don’t talk about their gasping for air as a behavior because the inability to breathe is a symptom. Symptoms require management. Maybe they have an inhaler. Or two. Or take medications to keep the symptoms under control.
Symptoms also require being proactive and managing triggers. Maybe they avoid having cats if that triggers an asthmatic episode.
Can you imagine discussing a child with asthma and describing symptoms as behaviors? We don’t look at the child in the middle of an asthmatic episode and talk about their behaviors. “Jane, please stop gasping for air. We don’t do that in this house.” Ummm….no.
So when I heard myself say for the eleventy billionth time this week, “Liam, we don’t run around the house when we need to get dressed. Stop that and put your clothes on”….quickly followed by “Liam, seriously. Can you just get dressed for the love of all things holy before I lose my ever loving mind?”, I realized that maybe I’m the problem and not him. Because lack of focus, hyperactivity, and the ability to follow through aren’t behaviors that he can change. They’re symptoms. #ifinallygetit
Expecting him to stop running and start getting dressed without all of us going nuts isn’t going to happen. His brain doesn’t work that way. Liam needs me in the room to keep him on track and he needs help sometimes because he really can’t remember what he’s supposed to be doing. Maybe I need to carry that book around at all times or leave it where I can see it so I can remember what’s really going on. That’s probably why the book is all about trying differently and not harder. Or louder and more annoyed in my case.
So I’m going to suggest that we stop talking about our kids’ behaviors and stop letting others do the same. Because brain damage and all is pretty uncontrollable. Brain damage is the problem and the things our kids do are the symptoms.
We can manage symptoms but not cure the permanent brain damage.
If you haven’t bought Diane Malbin’s book…run, don’t walk to get your hands on a copy.
Or actually click the link so you don’t have to get up. Life is hard enough without having to put on pants.
Or get it from the library. Insist that your case worker and kid’s teachers read it too, while you’re at it. And your family members. I’m buying a third one this week since I seem to have loaned the other two out. If you’re reading this and you have one my copies, no worries. You probably need it as much as I do 😉 Apparently the first two copies didn’t sink in anyways.
Have you read this book? Did it change your life? Tell me all about it below.
Affiliate links are included. If you purchase something through this link, I receive a small commission which does not affect your purchase price. It does allow me to keep this website going and feed the child who won’t eat anything and replace the lamps the other keeps accidentally kicking over. Because one of his symptoms is a total inability to sit on his bottom.