Real Stories from People living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Alexander "Sasha" Cook was adopted in 1997 at the age of five. Now at 23, Sasha and his mother, Melissa, share his story in recognition of FASD Awareness Day.
As a child and young teen, Sasha faced numerous difficulties. These included learning problems, struggles with social relationships such as interacting with classmates, difficulty with team sports since rules were too abstract, and trouble handling everyday things in life. He still remembers that being with his fellow students was "no fun."
Sasha had many evaluations and was diagnosed with multiple disabilities. Knowing he was exposed to alcohol before birth is what helped his family and doctors best understand his challenges. Typical milestones that other children reached and took for granted seemed out of reach for Sasha.
Coaching, Adapting, and Modifying Expectations
Yet despite the odds and with support from his family, friends, church, and school community, Sasha has come a long way. Sasha has shown great potential, has many strengths, works hard, and clearly shows his resilience and depth of character. "We did the majority of behavior modification at home through structure and by understanding that this is not a moral disorder but a brain-based disorder," explains Melissa.
"It is constant coaching, adapting, and modifying expectations for them, realistically…. matching their potential with their gifts and strengths. As parents, we are their external brain and our children who have FASDs can be successful in a safe, structured, organized, and under-stimulated environment that recognizes and builds on their capabilities in order to help through the challenges."
Employee of the Month
Sasha successfully completed high school and has been gainfully employed by a large national grocery chain since 2009. Over the years, Sasha has been given additional responsibilities by his employer and was also recognized for his willingness to help others. Sasha proudly shares details on the numerous awards he has received and his growing customer service skills. "I was excited to be Employee of the Month in January 2013 and now I've been promoted to work the cash register. I like the people who I work with."
Active Member of the Community
Following in his mother's footsteps, Sasha is an active member of the community. He understands his disability and helps bring support to others. Recently, he participated and helped answer questions about FASDs at the 10th annual Seminar Series for "Critical Issues Facing Special Needs and at Risk Children" hosted by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Suicide Prevention Program and The Supreme Court of Georgia's Committee on Justice for Children.
Sasha also provided information about the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) Georgia chapter. NOFAS, a national nonprofit resource of the FASD community, is committed to preventing FASDs and supporting individuals and families living with FASDs.
As busy as Sasha stays, he still participates in fun activities including playing the piano, playing tennis with the family, and participating in a church bowling league. "Sasha is an excellent bowler and has crafted his talent for five years," continues Melissa. "As a mother raising children with FASDs, I have found that promoting physical activity through individualized sports such as bowling, tennis, and ping pong are important tools to enhance a child's daily functioning." Sasha is a very well-rounded young man and receives great family support in all his endeavors.
Melissa would like to thank the Southeast FASD Regional Training Center and FASD Communities who have been especially helpful to her and her family in the past few years.
CDC would like to thank Sasha and Melissa for sharing their story.
This is the story of Melissa’s experience with alcohol use during pregnancy and her journey to find the best possible care for her son.
“I drank at the beginning of my pregnancy; before I found out I was pregnant. My doctor told me that it was okay to continue to drink wine during pregnancy. He said I could have a glass of wine at night with dinner. He said it might even help me relax and improve circulation. Not only did I think drinking wine during pregnancy was okay, but I thought that it could be healthy. He never asked me if I had a drinking problem, or how many drinks I have a day, or if I binge drink. There wasn’t any dialogue. I really wish that my doctor would have had more dialogue or asked me questions about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
“When my son was born he looked perfect. He has amazing strengths. He’s brilliant and he’s an amazing musician. However, as he got older I realized that things just weren’t quite right. He doesn’t like how clothes feel. He wore the same outfit for almost a year. I finally found a pair of socks that he would wear. Then the company stopped making the sock. That wouldn’t be a big deal for most people, but it was a terrifying moment for me. We went through about 25 packages of socks before we found a new brand that he would wear.
“On his first day of kindergarten, the school called me because he had turned over all of the chairs that people weren’t sitting in, turned over items in the kitchen area in the classroom, and thrown his shoes at the teacher.
“Most kids will get mad when they have to end play dates or sleepovers. But instead of just getting mad, my son tried to jump out of the car the other day because he had to leave a sleepover.
“When I finally realized what was going on, it was a relief, and it was horrifying, and I felt guilty, and I felt ashamed. But mostly I felt relieved to know what was going on.
“If a pregnant woman said to me, ‘I drink a little bit here and there and I was told it was okay,’ I would tell her that she wouldn’t if she had to live just one day with the way that I feel about myself, knowing how my son has been affected by my choices.
“I am angry that I was given wrong information about drinking during pregnancy. I want to tell as many people as I can about it. You never know how much alcohol during pregnancy is too much, so why take that chance?”
CDC would like to give a special thanks to Melissa and the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) for sharing this story with us.
Watch Melissa’s full story on video
"FASD has affected my life in many ways. I was born six weeks early and weighed three pounds, eleven ounces. As a child, I never knew what it was but it was hard for me to make friends and I found myself feeling afraid of others. School was very hard for me, especially math and English. I couldn't comprehend them. I completed high school and tried college, but it didn't go well. Then I got a job.
“Working was hard. I didn't know what I wanted to do and I went from job to job. I couldn't hold on to a job. It was hard for me because I developed anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. I still deal with that today. I see a therapist often and take medication. It's still a struggle.
“I do a lot of writing to express my feelings. It helps me. I also watch people very carefully to learn how to do certain things. I tend to read everything twice to comprehend what I am reading. For my anxiety, I avoid loud and crowded places. I always surround myself with people that I feel comfortable and safe with.
“I got involved with an organization called Al-Anon because I grew up in an alcoholic family. I do share my FASD story at the Al-Anon meetings. I always tell myself if there is one young woman who is thinking about having a child and who is drinking, if I share my story and that one person hears me, it's worth it.
“I want people to know that there is hope. I keep telling myself, if I can survive, others can too. FASD comes with a lot of shame and challenges. I always tell people to stop and think before taking that drink. Pregnant women should remember that they are not drinking alone."
CDC would like to thank Frances and the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) for sharing this personal story.
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- Page last reviewed: April 21, 2014
- Page last updated: April 21, 2014
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