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About Val and FASD

Aside from my professional role as a senior technical writer and instructional designer in San Diego, I established the FASD Network of Southern California (then known as the Southern California Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Information and Support Network) in 2010 with the help and support of a small group of parents and professionals.

In this role, I coordinate information and support group meetings for persons in Southern California who are interested in challenges faced by children and adults affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. Our network has a website, email discussion list, and a secure Facebook group.

Participants live and work throughout all ten Southern California counties. Most of the network members are, like me, foster, adoptive or biological parents and caregivers of children, teens or young adults affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. Others are professionals who work in or who are interested in the study, diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, education, protection, advocacy, counseling, or related services for fetal alcohol-affected persons or their families; or, those whose work involves women with a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and/or women and girls who may be at risk of using alcohol during pregnancy.

I launched this group because of my son. Ethan, born in 1994, has been arrested several times, starting at age 14. When he was 16, his San Diego County Juvenile Probation Officer told us she suspected Ethan of having FASD. Through resources I searched diligently for across Southern California, Ethan was finally diagnosed in 2011 at UCLA with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

About FASD

FASD describes a life-long, developmental, neurobehavioral disability with one cause: maternal alcohol use during pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the average woman in North America who uses alcohol during pregnancy is White, middle-class, college-educated, and over 30 years old. However, children born from every ethnic group and every socioeconomic class are affected.

FASD affects an estimated 1 in 100 births in North America, and the actual occurrence may be closer to 4 in 100: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9451756?log$=activity.

FASD causes permanent brain damage. It affects normal development and functioning of the brain and nervous system. It is manifested by developmental delay, slow information processing speed, impulsiveness, and sensory integration issues. FASD results in often subtle behavior problems, problem-solving struggles, and issues relating normally or safely with other people.

FASD is commonly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. For example, Ethan was diagnosed with ADHD when he was four years old. FASD affects more persons than autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, and sudden infant death syndrome combined. Still, it is much less well known.

Dale and I were living in Colorado in 1994 when we adopted Ethan - he was nine weeks old. We knew that his birth mother used heroin during her pregnancy. But not about her alcohol use. (I'm sure she didn't think drinking while pregnant could harm the baby, and the adoption agency did not know about it.)

Using drugs and alcohol together is common, even if the drug is preferred. But no amount of alcohol while pregnant is safe for an unborn child, especially when the woman is stressed by other health, nutritional, or environmental challenges.

Many FASD-affected individuals have an average or above-average IQ. Ethan is not considered to be mentally retarded. However, like Ethan, these persons have coexisting mental health diagnoses, sensory dysregulation issues, and/or or learning disabilities. These issues cause cognitive and adaptive functioning abilities typically much lower than their chronological age -- so that someone like Ethan can never be left unsupervised!

As children, persons with FASD tend to have behavior problems and do poorly in school. Like Ethan, many receive special education services.

As they grow older, they exhibit difficulty making safe and appropriate choices in order to "fit in" with their peers, and are likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. As teens and adults, they are at great risk of victimization, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and addiction, incarceration, and suicide. Girls and women who are affected by FASD are more likely than those who are not affected to have unplanned pregnancies, and to use alcohol and drugs while pregnant -- thus putting their own unborn child at risk of FASD (and other conditions, such as HIV, etc.).

Why am I telling you all this?

My goal is to reach anyone who may have served fetal alcohol-exposed clients or their families, or who might know others who do. They are the best way to reach out to families who may benefit from the network; and they are often interested in our programs and services for professional development.

I hope you will be able and willing to put me in contact with persons or organizations in your network, so this Southern California FASD network can assist other families like mine, or to add to the pool of resources for the families who participate in the Southern California FASD Information and Support Network.

Feel free to forward this information with any person or relevant group you may belong to.

If an interested person uses LinkedIn.com for networking, suggest that they connect with me on LinkedIn.com. My LinkedIn.com profile is here: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=1287786. If you know someone who may be interested, but who does not use LinkedIn.com, just share my contact information with them: vallipow@aol.com.

The web site of the FASD Network of Southern California is here: https://sites.google.com/site/socalfasdnetwork.

If anyone you know may be interested in events sponsored by the FASD Network of Southern California, please direct them to take a few minutes to visit this page on the Network web site: https://sites.google.com/site/socalfasdnetwork/events/event-mailing-list-request. Here, the visitor will find a brief questionnaire on the Event Mailing List page. The information provided helps us plan and organize our group meetings and training events.

We are working toward tax-exempt status and more. See http://www.gofundme.com/2vx0yc. Please contribute if you can!

Thanks for reading this page!

Val