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Adoption Involving Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Laura Bloch adored his picture. "My husband and I had just been approved through an adoption agency and the agency sent out a letter with a picture of a child on it," said Bloch of Edina, Minnesota, over the telephone.

The letter said this little boy was available through a Russian orphanage. He was almost three years old then. This may sound crazy, but the minute I saw his little face, I would have moved heaven and earth to get him."
The Blochs adopted Alex. At first, their adoption agency and pediatrician believed he didn't have fetal alcohol syndrome-something of particular concern with Russian adoptions.

However, in kindergarten, Alex had fine motor development challenges, including having difficulties holding a pencil. In second grade, he had persistent trouble following through on tasks. After a pediatrician diagnosed Alex with attention deficit disorder (ADD), Bloch learned about fetal alcohol syndrome through an acquaintance and she researched. Eventually, another physician re-diagnosed Alex after much more thorough testing.

The National Institutes of Health defines fetal alcohol syndrome (or spectrum disorder) as permanent "growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy."
Today, Alex is 17. Bloch said, "As a parent, the most frustrating thing for me is how it affects him in school. It looks like ADD on the outside in that he can't maintain focus for long periods. But really (on the inside) the two sides of his brain aren't communicating."

She cited one example of her working an hour with Alex to prepare him for a spelling test. An hour later, she said, "It was like we'd never worked on it. His short-term memory was shot, but three weeks later he could spell those words. He'd known the information (in the short-term), but couldn't access it."

Bloch said children with prenatal alcohol exposure don't have the ability to link actions with consequences, meaning they live in the moment. For Alex that's good because he never holds a grudge, but bad in that he makes the same mistakes repeatedly, even after continually receiving negative consequences.

She added, "As a parent, I'm scared to death he won't drive responsibly. These kids are very into the moment. To them, if it feels good do it. So risky sexual behavior is common, too."

Bloch volunteers as a Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome board member.

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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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