FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society
Don't Ask My Child To Fly

Don't Ask My Child To Fly

Bruce Ritchie, 1997

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND), Static Encephalopathy (alcohol exposed) (SE) or Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD) are all names for a spectrum of disorders caused when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol.  This poem describes individuals dealing with prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Don't ask my child to fly,

for he has not wings.

Don't ask my child to see the glint on the eagle's beak,

for his vision has been diminished.

Don't ask my child to remain calm amid the din,

for her ability to screen out the noises has been taken away.

Don't ask my child to be careful with "strangers",

for he is affectionate with everyone and prey for the unscrupulous.

Don't ask my child to "settle down",

for the clock which works for you and I, does not exist for her.

Don't ask my child to not play with the toys of others,

for he has no concept of property.

Don't ask my child to heal your wounds,

for her hands cannot hold a scalpel or sutures.

Don’t ask my child to remember you tomorrow,

although you met today.

Don't ask my child to meet the challenges set by “society”,

for you have denied her the tools.

Don't ask my child to forgive you for standing idly by,

while he was in trouble in his mother's womb,

for he will,

but He may not.


Background Discussion

 

Don't ask my child to fly,

for he has not wings.

An individual’s place, and success, in society is almost entirely determined by neurological functioning.  A neurologically injured child is unable to meet the expectations of parents, family, peers, school and career and can endure a lifetime of failures. The largest cause of neurological damage in children is prenatal exposure to alcohol. Often the neurological damage goes undiagnosed, but not unpunished.  Affected children do not "grow out of it".

Don't ask my child to see the glint on the eagle's beak,

for his vision has been diminished.

The eagle has long symbolized strength, courage and the ability to fly at great heights. It represents the aspirations of many. The sun reflecting off the soaring eagle's beak is the glint of those aspirations. It takes a sharp, well-focussed eye to see it at a distance. Some 90% of children with FASD have significant vision impairment.  Further, intellectual impairment can prevent them from "seeing" the subtleties needed in relationships and daily living.  Life can be a journey through a continuous fog, out of focus.  Success in anything is often dependent on being able to sharply focus on the activity, the objectives and the details.

Don't ask my child to remain calm amid the din,

for her ability to screen out the noises has been taken away.

'Normal" individuals have effective "screening filters" that allow them to focus on one thing while "filtering out" or ignoring other visual and sound distractions. Individuals with FASD do not have that capability and tend to become easily distracted, hyperactive or "wired".  They can easily go into sensory overload. Picture yourself living in a 24/7 disco with flashing strobe lights, blaring music and bouncing dancers everywhere.  Then try to focus on solving a math problem or learning to play a sonata on the piano.

Don't ask my child to be careful with "strangers",

for he is affectionate with everyone and prey for the unscrupulous.

Individuals with FASD are "followers", extremely trusting, gullible, impulsive, do not predict consequences, have difficulties with social cues and are very concrete in their thinking, not conceptual.  "Stranger" is a concept.  Children with FASD are at high risk from predators.

Don't ask my child to "settle down",

for the clock which works for you and I, does not exist for her.

Individuals with FASD tend to have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  They become easily "wired".  They need structure and certainty.  Transitions dictated by others from one activity to another can be very unsettling unless they are given time to prepare and adjust to the change.  They have to march to their own drummer and sleep on their own cycle.  They often flit from one activity to another or fidget when told to sit still.  They have to spill off the excess energy.

Don't ask my child to not play with the toys of others,

for he has no concept of property.

Individuals with FASD are very concrete in their thinking. They do not do "concept". A physical item is concrete. Property ownership is a concept.  They are also impulsive and do not predict consequences.  This often gets them into trouble.  They can memorize and repeat the rules, but the rules have no more internal meaning than dictated rules have to a tape recorder.

Don't ask my child to heal your wounds,

for her hands cannot hold a scalpel or sutures.

Individuals with FASD often have serious fine motor skills disabilities that preclude them from doing activities that require precision handwork, such as medical surgery, drawing and writing.  Further, intellectual impairment will mean that many careers are denied to them. Perhaps that child might have become a brilliant physician, scientist, musician or artist - had it not been exposed to alcohol in utero.

Don’t ask my child to remember you tomorrow,

although you met today.

Individuals with FASD often have serious short-term memory problems. They may constantly ask your name even though they have "known" you for many years.  The poor short-term memory may also mean they "fill in the gaps" with erroneous information. They can appear to be lying, but without intent.

Don't ask my child to meet the challenges set by “society”,

for you have denied her the tools.

An individual’s place, and success, in society is almost entirely determined by neurological functioning.  If we do not act to prevent prenatal alcohol exposure, we share the responsibility for children being born with disabilities that keep them from fully participating in society.  If we contribute, actively or through neglect, to destroying their conceptual thinking capabilities by permitting prenatal alcohol exposure, we are responsible when they don't understand the law and consequences of certain behaviour. "The buck stops here".  We must stop believing we can cure brain injury by punishment.

Don't ask my child to forgive you for standing idly by,

while he was in trouble in his mother's womb,

The health of our children is a responsibility we all have. If children in the womb are being exposed to toxins such as alcohol or to poor nutrition or other undue stresses, we have an obligation to the child, the expectant mother and to ourselves to help. If we do not help, we must share the shame for what we have done to the child, and we deserve to pay the price.  Would we allow a born child to be fed alcohol?  Why would we permit it in the womb?

for he will,

Our children with FASD are incredibly forgiving. 

but He may not.

The "He" refers to God. Our children with FASD may forgive transgressions against them, but the God who watches over them may not be as forgiving of us, the transgressors. Our children are everyone's responsibility. So we are also culpable if we see a pregnant woman drinking and do nothing.  We have the ability to prevent FASD.  Listen to the inner voice. That is our child trusting that we will provide protection.

Bruce Ritchie