A Different Reality

The following is a guest post written by Gaelene Askeland, Executive Director of  Initiatives for Just Communities.  This faith based charity in Manitoba facilitates and runs four unique ,people focused programs.  One of their programs, Touchstone FASD, provides support to adults and families living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as well as providing FASD awareness training to a variety of community groups..
As I sit here in my office, I am worried.  One of our program participants has cycled back into a difficult period of addiction and not-so-great decision making and we are all concerned for this person’s well being.
One of the things I have learned in this role is that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a complicated and multi-faceted brain injury that really makes for a very different lived reality than mine and, very likely, yours.
The way that information is taken in and processed in the FASD brain is different.  Most of us have a gatekeeper part of our brain that keeps us from acting on our more irrational impulses.  Many folks with FASD have a gate keeper who is snoozing on the job.  Every now and again the gate keeper wakes up and does something useful, but often impulses are just left to run their course and that means trouble often follows.
I try to imagine what would happen to me, my job, my friends and family if I acted on all of the extraneous impulses that course through my head all the time.  As a naturally reserved and fairly controlled person, it is actually really hard for me to do—but terrifying to contemplate.
I usually know when I make bad decisions or when I’ve said or done something that hurts someone, and I know that the consequences are mine to bear.  The part of my brain that helps me to think through the fixes and act on them works pretty well for the most part.  What would it be like if that part did not work as well?  If I couldn’t learn from one mistake so that I don’t make the same or a similar one later?
We see many of our clients struggle with this all of the time.  I give a lot of credit to our staff, who have interminable patience when talking through an issue or challenge with a client.  They do it with grace, care and a depth of understanding.
The challenges faced by someone with FASD aren’t necessarily visible on the surface which makes it easy to dismiss them as lazy, deliberately obtuse or uncaring about the people around them.
Does it change your perception when you know that their brains function differently, and that what they experience is very unlike what you and I experience going through the same event?
Life is challenging most of the time, and having a different understanding of the world than most because of a biological difference in brain physiology and chemistry adds to the challenge.
Our clients inspire us, frustrate us, challenge our patience and intellect and often surprise us with small forward steps.  We laugh with them and weep for them.   I am hoping that this particular client will be able to reach out and take the support that is offered to avoid probable alternatives.  
Regardless – I am thankful for the team that will be there to support, encourage and if necessary help back up after a fall.
Contact Gaelene to find out more!
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