FASD

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Only her closest friends know why it's tough

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When Ashley Friesen was a little girl, she'd wake up a dozen times a night and panic if her daily routine was disrupted.

"For one of our anniversaries, we decided it was not worth the trouble to get a sitter anymore. We went to the Royal Crown with her car seat," said mom Jennifer Friesen.

The Friesens, who fostered Ashley as a baby and adopted her when she was three, kept their house as mellow as possible, the shades drawn and the light low. To relax, Ashley would pop out to the jungle gym in the yard and swing for a while.

Now 13, Ashley grew out of all that. She's the lovely big sister in a house full of boys, the kind of sweet kid most parents pray for.

She still struggles with her FASD and how it might make people treat her differently if they knew. She was chilled by mean comments friends in junior high made about another student with more serious learning disabilities, so only her close friends know why she can't tell time really well or has trouble with "mental math" quizzes. She tends to label her disability as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder rather than FASD.

"I used to start crying when I thought about it, because I felt like my mom betrayed me and did it on purpose. Even now I still struggle a lot with forgiving her and not getting angry with her," said Ashley. "But I understand that if she was addicted, it was pretty much impossible to stop."

Bored at home and missing her friends after being home-schooled for most of elementary school, Ashley tried junior high in a local private school last year. It was a bit of a roller-coaster -- she did fairly well academically and made a batch of new friends, but the stress of classwork and the typical ups and downs of junior high cliques made it tough. Her mom says Ashley's compassion sometimes made her more vulnerable than other kids.

Last fall, she opted to learn at home again with her mom and tutors, and is thinking about maybe being a hair stylist or even a nurse one day.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2011 J4

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