CBC: Her son’s disorder has been part of her world for years. Now this mom’s focus is helping others

Mia Urquhart · CBC News · Posted: May 23, 2023 3:00 AM MDT

Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/fasd-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder-1.6844698
A boy dressed in camo kisses his mother's cheek and hugs her tight.
Tanya Walsh says it breaks her heart that her son, Ben, is almost 14 and has never been invited to a birthday party. (Submitted by Tanya Walsh)

Tanya Walsh is pretty open when she describes Ben, her 13-year-old son. 

Ben struggles with impulsivity and has trouble regulating his emotions. He has temper tantrums, and he can be aggressive. He’s hyperactive, doesn’t sleep very much and has personal space issues. 

Tanya has regularly had bruises — and sometimes bloody noses — from Ben hitting, kicking and throwing things. 

And then you meet Ben on a good day and none of that makes sense.

He’s sweet and eager, smiles a lot, and is keen to share stories — sometimes about his day or random memories from his life, often deferring to his mom with a quick “now you tell the rest, Mom.” 

Ben knows he has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. He also knows it makes him learn differently, and he know that it causes him to do things that might seem “rude” — as he puts it — to other people. 

“Underneath all of that is somebody who’s eager to please and wanting love and attention, the same as everybody else,” said Walsh. 

“Yeah, I agree with you, mom,” Ben immediately added. 

A disorder with a high impact

FASD is the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada, according to CanFASD, an interdisciplinary research network that includes the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada.

It’s estimated that about four per cent of Canadians, or 1,451,600 people, have FASD. That’s more than autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome combined, according to CanFASD. 

A red-headed boy with a big smile and a mug of hot chocolate
Ben Walsh was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder when he was seven years old. He’s now 13. (Submitted by Tanya Walsh)

FASD is caused by alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. It causes brain damage and growth problems. 

Symptoms can include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, behavioural problems, learning difficulties, hyperactivity and problems with hearing and sight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 90 per cent will also experience mental health issues, said Walsh. 

None of that was on the radar for Walsh and her husband when Ben arrived in their lives after a long wait to expand their family. 

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