How To Convince Others That Your Normal-Looking Child Isn’t Normal.

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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If we had a dollar for every time someone said, "Well, he doesn't look like he has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder," we'd be millionaires. The truth is, our child's disorder makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.

I remember the first time my son stepped up to the plate the first year he played baseball. He held his bat like a pro. He not only looked like a miniature major league player, he acted and performed like one. With one swing, he sent a fastball up the middle of the diamond, straight into center field. When the center fielder bobbled the ball, my son had the wits about him to chug ahead, safely into second base. The crowd of parents, including us, went wild. One father turned to me and said, “You got yourself one heck of a ball player there!”

Fast forward to the end of the game. I stood by the second base bag, equipment bag slung over my shoulder, and waited for my son to make the choice to walk off the diamond by his own power. He scowled at me, with arms folded, not budging, just beyond the dirt of the infield. He had called me every name in the book, told me I was stupid, and shouted “Leave me alone” so loudly that the head coach walked over to see if everything was alright. I assured him it was.

“You played a good game buddy,” he said reassuringly to my son. “We just always like to switch it up and make sure everyone gets some playing time.” My son held his position. His upper lip was curled, there was snot dripping from his nose, and he glared as if he wanted to kill us both. The coach then turned to me and said, “This happens often with the boys when we first start the season. They’re disappointed when we move them from a position they love or get used to, to another one. He’ll get used to it though.” If only that were it, I thought to myself.

After weeks of my son behaving like this, and the good-hearted coach trying to reassure him unsuccessfully, I finally decided to sit down with him and explain Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. I shared that while my son looked normal, and even acted normal (most of the time), he suffered from a disorder that has caused damage to his brain, specifically the part where reason and logic exist. He looked at me cross-eyed.

“Well, he looks like a normal little boy,” he said. “I know,” I replied. “The diagnosis he has is Alcohol-Related-Neuro-developmental-Disorder which is under the umbrella of FASD.” He looked puzzled. I felt if I said, “He has autism,” or “He has Down Syndrome,” he would have nodded immediately. Unfortunately FASDs don’t have a voice like those special needs do.

Present but hard to see.

We learned a lot from that experience with the coach and many others like it- IEP meetings, church youth groups, football, you name it. We wish we could go and redo many encounters with folks who just didn’t understand how a kid that looked as normal as mine (charismatic, perfect smile, life of the party, eloquent) could not be normal. In retrospect, we’ve discovered 4 action steps that families like ours can take with coaches, teachers, neighbors, etc. to help them better understand our children…

  1. Share the facts. We can’t begin to count how many IEP meetings we’ve gone into with printed material on FASD’s. Our good friends over at and NTI Upstream do an amazing job of providing material, even a great documentary, on the facts of FASDs. Take this content with you, especially if it’s your first meeting with your child’s school, coach, or youth pastor.
  2. Honest conversation. Carve out time to sit down and speak honestly about your child’s disorder. Begin by saying something like this- “I need to share the reality of {Name} disorder with you. I know it’s hard to see, but he or she deals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It happened when he or she was in their birth mother’s womb. It has caused {Name the behavior}. Here is some literature that is very helpful in understanding. The way you can help us is by {Name the helpful move the coach, teacher, or youth pastor can make}.” Obviously the conversation will be more 2-sided than this, and probably longer, but these are the critical points you need to make.
  3. Expert perspectives. Share some of the leading expert perspectives on FASD. One of our favorite FASD experts is Dr. Ira Chasnoff  from NTI Upstream. He’s a leading researcher and expert in the field of FASD. You can learn more here. If you have a doctor or therapists who gets it and can be a voice for you, by all means, use their perspective when communicating with people who do not understand.
  4. Move on. There’s a point when enough’s enough! You’ve shared the facts, had the conversations, even shared blog posts and articles from doctor’s, clinicians, and writers. But the person just won’t get it. At this, you can be sure that it’s time to move on. Pull your child from the team, stop dropping them off in that Sunday School class, request a different teacher,

Loving through the abnormal.

We love our son. It was hard at first to admit that he wasn’t normal, even harder to have those conversations with him. But in-spite of this, we love him and we want what’s best for him. But the same is true for the people surrounding him. His teachers, coaches, small group leader at church, even the parents of neighborhood kids he plays with. We want the best for them too. They’re not our enemies. They are friends and we will do everything in our power to bring them onto the same page with us, even if they aren’t in the same boat as us.

Our over-arching goal is always to build bridges and find ways to partner. Unless and until we are pushed to the absolute limit with continual misunderstanding, we will make this our goal.

Have you encountered misunderstanding people when it comes to FASD or any other disorder? How did you handle explaining or enlightening? Share your story with us.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.