A Hidden Disability

-- by Cindy Slats

My daughter has a hidden disability. Anyone looking at her sees a normal, healthy, beautiful 8 year old girl. She has a high-average IQ, which is apparent when one talks to her. At this point in time she is doing well in school, almost too well to qualify for the Special Education services she needs to have in the future. If you were to see her out in public on a good day, you might not even notice her, except possibly to note that she is a very energetic child. But if you were to see her on a bad day, these terms would come to mind: "spoiled, unruly, obnoxious, undisciplined, victim of bad parenting, from a dysfunctional family." You cannot see the brain damage my little girl carries around inside her head, and will live with for the rest of her life. You would be very put off by her behavior, and would hold her and/or her upbringing responsible. You would not experience the feelings you have when you see a child with an obvious disability, such as sympathy, protectiveness, understanding. You would experience negative feelings toward her for things she can no more help than a child with Down Syndrome or any other birth defect.

This then is Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE) for my daughter. She reacts inappropriately to teasing from her peers, to suggestion, she violates society's rules regarding personal property and personal space, she does not control her impulses, her anger or other emotions. As she gets older she cannot maintain friendships with children her own age. They don't understand some of her actions, and find it hard to trust her.

The result of having a disability that no one can see and very few can understand is frustration, anger, a feeling of isolation and worthlessness. "I'm bad, nobody likes me, I'm always in trouble, I might as well not even try."

If you see my daughter and I abruptly leave a public setting due to her behavior, or if you see us abandoning a full shopping cart in the middle of the shopping center aisle, try not to judge too quickly or too harshly. My child has permanent and irreversible brain damage as a result of prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is as real and as devastating as the disabilities you can see and understand. My child is not "spoiled" or "bad" or "a troublemaker." My child is disabled.

email Cindy Slats

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