Daniel J Vance

In 1996, Jennifer Goudy and her husband felt excited that their long-standing dream of having children was about to come true. They were in Russia adopting two boys, brothers ages one and two.

“We’d been told, of course, the boys were healthy,” said 53-year-old Goudy in a telephone interview from her Great Falls, Virginia, home. “But at the very last window (in the adoption process) in Moscow, a lady shoved the visas and papers back at us, and said, ‘You know, don’t know, these boys were taken away from their parents for alcohol abuse and neglect?'”

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In time, a physician diagnosed both Chris and Alex with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says FAS can occur in an infant when a mother consumes any amount of alcohol during her pregnancy. In the child, it is characterized by lifelong growth deficiencies, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system or brain abnormalities. The syndrome is completely preventable.

The Goudys had to adapt quickly to their new sons. Jennifer willingly quit her six-figure job to care for them full-time at home, but her husband did not adapt so well. The couple divorced in 2002, primarily due to his inability to cope, Jennifer said.

Early on, Jennifer noticed the children had difficulties processing and retaining spoken language. Chris couldn’t repeat spoken English words. They had difficulty with sensory issues, such as feeling discomfort wearing certain kinds of clothing.

Today, Chris and Alex are 14 and 15. “They are dyslexic and about five years behind grade level in reading comprehension,” said Goudy. “Plus they have auditory processing difficulties and poor working memory. Their thinking is very concrete, black and white, and abstract ideas are hard for them to understand. They have many things in common with children with autism.”

The boys’ biggest challenges now involve managing nonverbal learning disorder, i.e., an inability to read auditory and visual social cues.

Goudy is now director of National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Northern Virginia. Her advice to parents: Change your expectations and get all the help you can. Most parents feel a sense of loss. Also, find a FAS support group because “those are the people that really get it.”

Most special education teachers weren’t taught about FAS in college, she said. So be prepared to spend a lot of time teaching the teachers.

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