Adoption and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome screening

A personal post…  Many of my readers know that we brought our son home from Guatemala almost three years ago.  This Science News article on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (here) reminded me of one of the most stressful times in the adoption process — checking to see if Jon was healthy. 

Sadly, many babies have been afflicted with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Russia is the most infamous for this problem in children, though it is common in many other countries.  Regardless of all the warnings received from agencies and social workers, adoptive parents inevitably become very vulnerable once they get in-country to bring home their child.  You’ve waited months and years to bring home a child and the anticipation is almost painful.  FAS or other chronic illnesses are especially devastating to first-time parents, who will struggle enough with the joys and challenges of raising a child.

Luckily, we had a local resource — Dr. Boris Skurkovich at Hasbro Children’s Hospital ( — who specializes in reviewing medical records, photos, and videos for any hint of potential issues.  The International Adoption Clinic is a great resource even after you bring your child home.

However, even Dr. Skurkovich can’t help with the latest trick, scam, fraud, etc.  Now we’ve heard of cases where parents are shown a picture of one child.  When they get in-country, the child they asked to bring home looks just a bit different and just a bit sicker.  Of course, that’s because the child is different and is sicker.  But how do you say “No”?

4 Responses

  1. What is even more concerning is that families are not being told that the more incidious of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) like Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) are largely INVISIBLE. The facial features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome form during ONE WEEK of the pregnancy and can be affected if alcohol is used during that week, the brain and central nervous system form every single day.

    Most people with a FASD will have no outward indication of the struggles they will have with behavior, impulse control, poor judgment, understanding consequences, etc… Many times problems do not become apparent until the child is older and the gap between them and their peers starts to widen. FASD is often invisible but it is permanent brain damage and this is a lifelong disability. What is most incidious is that often the people with the visible forms of this disability (FAS) will have better outcomes than those with a less visible diagnosis like ARND.

    I am the adoptive parent of two children from the US foster care system and both have FASD. One has ARND and one has partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (she has the facial features and the central nervous system / brain damage but she does not have the growth deficiency for full syndrome.) I write a lot about our family on my blog.

    It is possible to parent children with FASD but the parenting tools are different. These kids need families…and families need education. ~Kari

    • I am interested in your blog about FASD and ARND. My girlfriend adopted a little boy from Guatemala 4 years ago and I suspect he has ARND because he has no facial deformaties but he has had trouble with eating, walking, sensorary issues, speech delay, sleeping issues, connection between cause and effect and lately horrible temper issues. I have approached my friend about it but she seems to be in denial and I can only hope that I am wrong but have heard how important it is for these children to get specialized help.

      Any information you can send to me would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks Denise

  2. In 2005 I adopted a 6 y/o girl from Russia. From the beginning I knew she looked..just slightly different. I knew Russia has a heavy drinking history, and the sketchy story of her birth mother that I got from the orphanage sounded like an alcohol problem. I’m a nurse, and had raised a daughter before, so I recognized something wrong. I knew little about FAS/FAE at the time so I began an internet search. Surprisingly the (US) pediatrician didn’t recognize her FAS, neither did her teachers at school. The teachers just said she was ‘lazy’ when she struggled to learn something and just couldn’t get it. As I researched and discovered her learning problems I knew for certain she had FAS/FAE. She is now in an IEP program (at a different school)…..and me? I am now in a Masters Degree program to become a Family Nurse Practitioner….my primary focus will be……yes…working with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome…both in prevention, screening, diagnostic work, treatment/coping and research. My daughter is one of those who might never be able to live on her own because of FAS…but I love her dearly anyway. So, I guess, all in all, something good has come out of my adoption anyway…..a new child, a new life, a new focus for my career.

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