I had both kids DNA tests done, mostly for curiosity’s sake. But also because I’ve read that kids with FASDs are prone to genetic mutations. One of M’s most interesting mutations, is that he is MAO-A R297R +/+ and that basically means his body (probably) does not break down catecholamines properly. Dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are some catecholamines. We have further evidence that this genetic trait is being expressed because about a year and a half ago, we had his neurotransmitters tested via a urine sample by a naturopath and the levels of catecholamines in his urine were off the charts.
Here’s the thing. Catecholamines cause the “fight or flight” response. They activate the amygdala which triggers an emotional response to stress. It is common for kids with FASDs to be nearly always in the “fight or flight” mode. One of my favorite FASD experts, Ira Chasnoff, describes it this way:
A child exposed to drugs or alcohol prenatally is like a pot of water on a stove at a simmer. The least stimulus will turn the flame under the pot to full heat and the water will boil over. One of the most important things we can do to help manage our children’s behaviours is to find out what causes the flame to erupt and then work to remove or correct that stimulus form the child’s environment.
It could be true that added physical damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure to the amygdala also contributes to the behaviors we see. This combined with the genetic predisposition of not being able to process catecholamines results in ANXIETY for M. When that anxiety ramps up with a stressful situation or an adverse emotional state, we see aggression (he is almost always in fight mode).
Here’s the problem. I was an anxious kid. I know some other anxious kids. Anxiety is within my realm of understanding as a normal childhood behavior. So before I knew better, what did I react to? Not the anxiety, because it was normal to me, I only reacted to the aggression, and not well. I got angry, yelled and took away privileges. I wasn’t helping my kiddo deal with his anxiety. I know now that my tendency to be triggered by his aggression was causing more anxiety and thus worsening the problem. Like Dr. Chasnoff says, we can’t really control that our kids are erupting. We can only control the stimulus. My kiddo may be extra susceptible to these explosions because of the combo of his genes and alcohol exposure and I certainly can’t force him to be less anxious or to be less aggressive. As M’s parent, I can only try and control the environment to reduce his anxiety. This is not always possible and we’ve had a summer of tremendous amounts of aggression due to situations beyond my control. I just need to keep reminding myself, this is not an aggressive child. M is an anxious child, a scared child, a child who needs his mama to support him in his struggle.
Friends and family, who perhaps mean well, have tried to tell us that what he needs is some stricter discipline. If someone can explain to me how spanking fixes brain damage and alters genetic code, I’d be interested to hear about that.
More info from one of my favorite dads/blogs: