Over the past 15 or so years that Eastern
European kids have been coming to join their adoptive families both
inside and outside the US, we've all learned certain truths - a glaring
one of which is that a lot more of these children have alcohol-related
neurological disabilities than previously thought (or hoped). I'm one
of hundreds of moms on this list who was reluctant to cross that ARND
bridge knowing that the damage, if acknowledged, might prove to be irreversible.
What happened with our family was that my son's "team" of
doctors, therapists, and I finally came to the ARND conclusion after
many years of trying conventional therapies that didn't get the job
done. After years of therapies he still had language issues, his growth
was still near the bottom of the charts, he still had significant learning
disabilities and reasoning lapses, he still has tremendous memory and
processing issues. But when the diagnosis (by default) finally came,
it was a relief because we had a meaningful explanation for all the
struggles. And it wasn't just a relief to us....it was a relief to him
I am ever in awe of the complexity of the
human brain. While there are certainly many times during the development
of a fetus when tremendous harm can be done to its brain by the poison
of alcohol, there are also many moments when normal development can
and does occur. I know for a fact that a LOT of normal development can
happen to a child who is the product of an alcoholic mother because
I watched it first-hand with my biological brother. My mom was a 3:00
- 10:00 PM drinker every single day of her pregnancy, but somehow, during
those other hours when she was asleep or not drinking, enough "normal"
development took place that my brother is a thoroughly functional and
successful individual. Does that mean he doesn't have any problems?
No, sir! But no one would pick him out of a crowd as being different.
He lives independently and owns his own successful business. Quirky,
yes. Irreparably damaged, no.
The best part of the human brain is its plasticity. It's
pretty clear from all the latest research that the brain can and does
heal itself. It finds alternative pathways for areas that have been
permanently damaged. It's in a constant state of change and growth.
That's why acknowledging ARND as an underlying cause of a child's struggles
need not be cause for alarm. It seems that with these children the important
thing to do is ferret out the strengths (because they all have 'em)
and accentuate the positive even though you may never be able to completely
eliminate the negative. It may be sports prowess, it may be artistic
achievement, it may be interpersonal relationships, it may be an ability
to work with animals.....whatever it is, find it, continually reinforce
it, and nurture it. Just because these children struggle at school (and
most of them do), doesn't mean they are any less talented and precious
than the rest of their peers - they're just wired differently! The best
thing is that all those therapies, IEP meetings, doctor appointments, etc. do pay off. There is no "cure" for
ARND, but with proper care and continuing therapies, the ARND child
can become a complete and totally unique, contributing individual.
It gets better and better, trust me.
Sergei was adopted at age 5 with no self-generated language,
diagnosed as failure to thrive, malnourished, sleep disordered, intensely
sensory-seeking, severely emotionally traumatized, and unable to make
attachments. Fast-forward 12 years.....he is affected by ARNDs and because
he's still in high school, his severe dyslexia is his biggest problem.
He still has memory and language processing issues, but it's clear that
the damage to his brain centers around his language/auditory processing
areas. The rest of his brain works pretty well. His athletic and interpersonal
abilities are awesome - and those are the two areas we encourage and
reinforce. He can and has held down a job during the school year and
the place he was working is going to re-hire him now that all the college
kids are leaving for back-to-school. He will be able to live independently
(with a little monitoring of his finances). For as damaged as he came
to us, he's doing just great!