Not many people wish to raise a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. Diane Lohrey is no different. But when she and her husband adopted three children, all later diagnosed with an FASD, they accepted the hardships and the rewards.
When you walk into the Lohrey household, kids seem to materialize out of thin air.
“We have five of our own and one foster, so six kids right now,” says the mom, Diane Lohrey.
Two are biological, three are adopted and the foster child is through the state Office of Children’s Services.
“And they just called us a few minutes ago to see if we would take an 8-year-old boy, but we have no room right now,” Lohrey says.
They’ve already converted their garage into a comfortable bedroom. At least a dozen foster children have passed through the four-bedroom house since 2005, staying anywhere from one night to 18 months.
The Lohreys’ first adoption was Elena from Russia in 2004.
“Within two days, I knew something was wrong,” she says.
Elena was 21 months old. Lohrey says she was different than the other Russian infants getting adopted.
“She would stare at things. She didn’t know how to play with toys. She would play with a little piece of lint more than she would a toy,” Lohrey explains.
Years later, the Lohreys adopted biological sisters Kylie and Kristyanna from Juneau through OCS.
They receive a stipend from the state for the two girls, who are now ages 5 and 6, and any foster children that pass through. Lohrey is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is a highway engineer.
All three adopted kids were diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at the FASD clinic in Juneau. Medical professionals at the clinic require some kind of evidence that the biological mother drank during pregnancy in order to do the diagnosis.
That was hard for Lohrey. She pleaded with Kylie and Kristyanna’s biological mom, “‘Go to OCS and write down that you drank or that you drank before you knew you were pregnant. That is the greatest gift you can give these children,’ and she did it,” says Lohrey, crying.
Emilyanne, 21, is one of Lohrey’s biological children. She says the diagnosis opens the doors for getting help, “and for, like, other people to understand, they’re not just bad kids. There’s a logical explanation for why they are the way they are, and how to give more ideas how to help them and not discard them like trash.”
FASD is an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of disabilities, minor to severe. Lohrey says each of her three adopted kids falls in different areas. Issues include short attention spans, disorganization and being overly trusting. One of her kids has a tendency to lie and steal.
Elena, who’s also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, doesn’t communicate her own needs.
“She won’t voluntarily say, ‘I need something,’ or ‘I need help,’ or ‘I’m lost.’ So one of the things they told us is that she might need long-term care, that she might not be able to live on her own. And that was like – that hurt,” Lohrey says.
It’s tough to accept that your child has a lifetime disability for which there’s no cure, Lohrey says. In most cases, you can’t tell by looking that someone has an FASD.
“A lot of times, you’re out in the community and your kids are doing something stupid and you’re embarrassed and some people will say really rude things to you, like ‘You need to control your child,’ and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing the best I can. You have no idea.’ And sometimes I would love to wear a shirt that says, ‘My child has FASD. Don’t judge us,'” Lohrey says.
The Lohreys did not set out to adopt three kids with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
“And there are days when I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I had never adopted.’ I think that’s with your typical family, too. I think there are days where parents say, ‘I wish I didn’t have any kids.’ I think that’s normal,” Lohrey says.
She admits she may say it more than other parents, but there are times when she can’t imagine not adopting.
“Each little child that you adopt, each little child that you foster, hopefully you’re giving them something that will make this world a better place and better understanding and teach more empathy,” Lohrey says.
Lohrey sometimes blames the biological parents, but she knows that’s pointless. She says you can’t change the past. You can only focus on the here and now, and the future.