Last fall, I was honored to have a pediatrician and her husband, a neurologist, from Lithuania visit Dream Catcher Farm to learn more about our therapeutic farm animal sanctuary for children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) / Neurodevelopmental Disorder associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE). They spoke about their challenging work moving Lithuanian children from orphanages into foster care homes in the community. Unfortunately, many foster families are unable to care for the children who have short attention spans, are impulsive, are triggered into “fight or flight” (emotional reactivity) very easily, are sensitive to ordinary environmental stimuli and have difficulty learning new information. As a result, many children are returned to the orphanages. After I explained the 4 domain model of working with these children and told them about a novel program for women and their dependent children in North Carolina, they returned to Lithuania with renewed hope for families suffering from alcohol abuse. Little did I know they would be sending me to Lithuania this fall to help build a farm program.
Parenting children with FASD/ND-PAE can be frustrating, overwhelming, and nearly impossible for those who are not trained to understand that these children can’t follow directions, and perform daily activities without continuous reminders and prompting. They also have difficulty attuning to parents and caregivers because of wiring differences. It turns out that children respond well to and are eager to learn how to care for animals. Farm animal therapy incorporates gentle stroking, petting, cuddling, and grooming animals in addition to feeding and watering them daily. Hand raised animals like mine are eager to be touched, nurtured, and cared for and seek people out rather than running away. For this reason, children are drawn to the gentle goats, rescue pig, and barn cats at Dream Catcher Farm.
On their return to Lithuania, the visiting physicians said, “We have children and we have animals.” Yet what the idea they developed was to put the entire family on a farm with a farming family who would give the parents meaning and purpose living a substance free life, allowing the children to remain in their family of origin. I feel blessed though maybe a little naive that my farm may inspire others like it to help children with prenatal alcohol exposure and their families live happier, healthier lives.