In this episode of the BSTS talk show, change agents and Dr. Rich recently sat down with Mary Greene, an adoptive mother of two children from Russia, to discuss her memoir, which is much like a contemporary version of Michael Dorris’s, “The Broken Cord.”
“Mama, rain hurts Peter.”
This was among the first intelligible sentences Mary Greene had ever heard her six-year-old son say. The pain caused by the gentle touch of rain is a poignant example of sensitivity to commonplace stimuli that FASD are troubled by on a daily basis.
In her book “When rain hurts” Mary describes her journey of adopting Peter and her daughter, Sophie, as toddlers, and the struggles and joy she and her husband have experienced since then. From discussions about her son’s disruptive behavior to learning about and dealing with his FASD-related special needs, she opens up her life in a very honest and touching way.
“You can still love someone but hate what it’s doing to our family and what it is doing to him. And the impact that it is having on all of us.”
From the beginning of their family life together, Mary and her husband, Pat, consulted Dr. Aronson, an international adoption specialist who was uncertain about the degree of Peter’s FASD, but fairly certain that he had it. Over time, Peter’s behavior seemed very robotic. He repeated things over and over again and seemed autistic. His sensory issues caused him to refuse most foods except those with soft texture. One of the strongest supports she found was Dr. Ronald Federici, a well-known developmental neuropsychologist from Clifton, VA specializing in post-institutionalized children with histories of profound neglect and deprivation. He diagnosed Peter with Autism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as well as intellectual disability.
Reading the book, most of all, I enjoyed her journey entries as snapshots in time. Mary says that her journal entries reflect an evolution of her parenting skills over time. For children with FASD normal/natural parenting strategies don’t work. As an example, consequences are difficult to use to change behavior because many kids with FASD have a hard time learning from experience. Like Peter, they can be impulsive, easily led and gullible, have poor judgement, and difficulty deciding between right and wrong. For parents and caregivers, this means they must adjust their expectations to the child’s capabilities. Because they have problems with “cause and effect” reasoning, there is a high rate of incarceration among individuals with FASD. The difference in Peter’s case is that his parents understand his underlying special needs and have proper supports put in place to prevent him from being taken advantage of or ending up in jail.
Though parenting a child with FASD has been challenging, when given the choice to change anything about her situation, Mary emphatically states – “I would always choose my children!”
From her first hand experience raising a child with this preventable developmental disability, Mary believes we must change the way we speak with women during childbearing years.
“The message has to be changed, that drinking when you have the opportunity to get pregnant is dangerous and comes with risks. Doctors and other health care professionals need to speak honestly with women about their drinking habits.”
Thank you Mary Greene for taking the time to talk to us about “When Rain Hurts.” Your book has inspired us and will hopefully motivate others to change their lifestyle behaviors before, not just during, pregnancy.