Reaching Out to a Family Whose Child Has FASD

What are some meaningful ways our church can help and support a family of a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)? This young family attends our church regularly but struggles to connect with most of the people in our congregation. I'm ashamed to say that we're largely to blame for their feelings because we've had some difficulty dealing with the child's behavior. We regret this and want to reach out to them, but we're not sure how to get started.

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Raising a child with FASD can be a daunting and lonely situation. We don’t know the severity of the FASD affecting this particular child, but we’re aware of the challenges many children with the disorder face:

  • Learning disabilities.
  • Attention difficulties.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Memory problems.
  • Impulse control difficulties.
  • Problems with language and social skills.

These issues often lead to a number of behavioral problems. In the context of your church, a child with FASD can be disruptive, distracting, and a test of patience for even a veteran Sunday school teacher.

Many people who meet a child with FASD are unaware of the circumstances that have influenced his behavior. They don’t know he has neurological and developmental issues that make it a struggle (almost impossible in some cases) to behave like other children.

A casual and uninformed observer may chalk up the child’s behavior to poor parenting – an accusation that may have been aimed at this mom or dad more than once. Something like this may even have happened at your church.

So what can you do to reach out to this family?

Start a friendship.

Everyone wants to be genuinely loved. No one wants their children to simply be tolerated. Showing sincere interest and concern for both the parents and their child is a first step toward helping them know they’re wanted.

Educate yourselves.

Learn all you can. Then put yourself in the parents’ shoes. If your child had organic brain problems that affected his social skills or behavior, would you want him to be evaluated by the exact same standards as typical children? An expression of empathy based on what the family may be experiencing can go a long way toward making them feel like a welcome part of your community.

Offer tangible acts of kindness.

Be straightforward and ask the family what they need. These needs won’t be the same for every family of a child with FASD and can range from desire for social interaction (for themselves or their children) to help with their child. For example, parents of a child with FASD may not be able to regularly attend church services because of their little one’s disruptive behavior. Offer to take the child out during church to play so that mom and dad can attend the service without interruption or worry.

It’s possible for the parents to be so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to begin if you offer help. In that case, start by letting them know what you plan to do: “I’ll be over Tuesday afternoon to babysit while you go shopping or run errands. Will that work for you?” Once they know you’re genuine in your care and concern, they’ll be much more likely to suggest ways they could use your help.

And if you’d like to talk with someone about other ways you can be supportive in this situation, call our Counseling department for a free consultation. Our licensed counselors would be glad to help however they can.

Resources
Special Needs Children: How the Church Can Help

Just Show Up

Focus on the Family Complete Book of Baby & Child Care

Resource List: Special Needs & Disabilities

Referral
Joni and Friends: Church Relations

Articles
Parenting a Special Needs Child

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