Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) names a range of conditions that result from brain injury in an unborn child when the mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is completely preventable, yet thousands live with its permanent physical and mental consequences. In this issue, we offer information and links to resources to increase understanding in congregations, so that we may respond with the love of Christ to the children and adults with FASD in our midst.
FASD causes permanent, irreparable brain damage that can lead to difficulties with:
- Attention span
- Impulse control
- Motor skills and coordination
While accommodations, close supervision, and coping skills can help persons with FASD to live more functional lives, FASD cannot be cured, repaired, or outgrown.
A Biblical Perspective
Joan Rinker offers a clear biblical word to guide stronger members of the Body of Christ in responding to those who have greater need, such as those with FASD: “Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (I Thess 5:14 NLT. Rinker, “An Invisible Disability,” The Banner, Feb 1, 2012).
Likewise, Rinker suggests, persons with special needs such as FASD can take solace in this promise: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (I Cor. 8:12 TNIV). Truly, our loving God loves and understands those with FASD and accepts with grace the limitations each person faces.
Congregations that Support and Accept
What can churches do to support families who live with issues of FASD? Parents who have adopted children with FASD tell how their families experience love, acceptance, and encouragement from their faith communities.
Sherry and Robert Martz are raising three boys with FASD. Robert is pastor of Topeka (Indiana) Mennonite Church. Sherry writes, “Our experiences in our church have been very positive overall. I honestly cannot think of a better place to be with our boys. They are loved and accepted. Being in a smaller church where the boys know everyone and everyone knows them has helped a lot. Some people do not understand why we draw such strong boundaries. That has been a challenge, but they don’t know what went on at home before coming to church.”
Sherry adds, “Over the past few years, our church has learned to accept that our children require a low sugar diet. Sometimes the boys will say things that are not true, although in some cases it may seem true to them. This has hurt a few people’s feelings. I pray they will understand that the boys, although they look normal, have brain damage. Seldom do we fully understand why the boys say and do the things they do.”
Grace Scott, another mother, writes, “Our Mennonite congregation has been very supportive of our daughter with FASD, whom we adopted at birth. We have faced a myriad of challenges which included several inpatient psychiatric stays. Members of our congregation stood by us in support, even sending her cards of encouragement during hospital stays. Often parents raising children with FASD have relatives who are openly critical of parenting choices, Our pastor served as mediator and facilitated open discussion with some of our relatives. This has led to increased respect for our position as parents and healthy boundaries within our interactions.”
Opportunities to Minister
As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to love and accept those who live with the challenges of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). When we practice biblical principles of caring, grace, forgiveness, and perseverance, we can help to build up families worn by the weight of their responsibilities. God does not call everyone to parent children damaged by the alcohol a mother consumed before birth, but does call each of us to support and love those who are given this awesome undertaking. If we are willing, God will provide us all with opportunities to minister to the needs of families living with FASD.
Sue Cassel wrote this article in 2012 when she was a Field Associate for ADN and a congregational disabilities advocate for North Leo Mennonite Church, Leo, IN.
Resources from Others
Joan Rinker, “An Invisible Disability,” an article in The Banner, a magazine of the Christian Reformed Church in North America
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, a publication of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. This downloadable 64-page publication includes a detailed description of fetal alcohol spectrum symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments, as well as information on children and adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in juvenile and family courts.