Skip to content

Video transcript - Vanessa's story

Vanessa Spiller, clinical psychologist and parent of a teenager with FASD, says:

I guess I have a little bit of inside knowledge about what I think psychologists know about FASD, and what I think they should know about FASD.

I live with my son who is now 18, and he's been with us since he was about two. And it's full of challenges and highs and lows, and this has been a massive learning journey, I guess as a parent, as a human being.

Discipline is usually our first reaction as human beings and I think as parents, and anyone who does some education, but it just doesn't work very well with kids with FASD.

When people believed that those behaviours were a result of a neurodevelopmental disability, then what they were more likely to do was to use things like antecedent strategies to manage those behaviours, and they're things like changing the environments, skilling up kids, and when they did that, that actually led to greater confidence in parenting.

Just because we're not using consequences, doesn't mean we're not managing his behaviour.

Being a clinical psychologist means that it's enabled me to look a bit deeper at his behaviours. So it helps me to look at what might be driving his behaviours and get a better explanation. Rather than him just being naughty or wilfully misbehaving, there is actually the brain injury [which] is driving the behaviours that we see, and therefore finding a useful way or an alternative way of managing those behaviours.

He is an excellent bike rider too and that is certainly his passion. He is physically very, very capable and able - he has lots and lots of skills in BMX riding, but also mountain bike riding – and that's something that he can be an expert in, and he doesn't get to be an expert in a lot of things in his life so having an opportunity to be actually really good at something, and you know, his peers recognise that, so it gives him a little bit of status even though he really struggles academically and socially in lots of different ways, the fact that he stands out in terms of his bike riding really gives him a good sense of self-esteem, and he's really very confident.

To being led astray, you know, he wants to have friends but he's really vulnerable to being exploited by his peers, and they're all starting to get into a whole range of behaviours like smoking and drinking but you know, the level of concern for him if he was to become engaged in those things actually goes up quite a few notches.

The future is probably our next really big challenge - so he moves from a really supported environment in his current school, into the workplace and how to transition into a workplace as a person with a disability. Who is going to support him to do that? Apart from us, of course.

We really want to know what psychologists know so that they are actually giving useful and helpful advice.

Number one would be getting themselves educated about FASD, and what it is to have FASD, as well as getting a bit of an understanding of how that impacts on the family environment.

So, you need both the book knowledge about what FASD is, but also the everyday applications and how that changes the way families interact.

These kids are able to learn and they are able to make changes, but it is just a really long process. And don't forget relationships, you know, kids will do anything for someone they love, so the stronger your relationship with them, the better it is for everyone.