FASD

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It can be 'overwhelming,' but she copes

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Lisa Morrisseau has a loving husband, three beautiful children and a disability that no one -- not even her parents -- knew about.

The young mom has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that affects her memory and her brain's ability to get organized. Life can be "overwhelming," but on the surface it doesn't always show.

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"I don't look like I have a disability. People think I'm, quote, 'normal.' But I struggle," she said.

Her parents didn't know what was wrong with her and her twin sister when they were adopted at age four. They weren't developing cognitively as quickly as the couple's older biological daughter had.

It wasn't until years later, when her dad saw a news program about FASD, they began to discover what was wrong. Morrisseau's father recognized some of the problems the twins were facing. They began to put the pieces together with the symptoms and the birth mom's history and eventually got a confirmed FASD diagnosis.

Morrisseau and her sister were placed in a smaller classroom and got extra help to deal with their disability.

"Sometimes it was hard," she said. "Nobody wants to be in the 'special' class, but I wouldn't have been able to do (regular) math and chemistry."

She was able to focus on her strengths.

"Computers and music helped get me through the day, to have something you're good at." Having teachers who were supportive helped her stay in school to Grade 12.

Now, she's a mom with a child starting school and wants people to understand what FASD is and whom it affects.

"The most important thing is not to judge... We all need help."

She shares her experiences as a speaker with Visions and Voices. The Mennonite Central Committee program has adults like Morrisseau with FASD talk about their experiences with the public at workshops and conferences.

With no relatives in Winnipeg, Morrisseau gets help from Jewel Reimer with the MCC. The social worker and friend gives Morrisseau a hand once a week, driving her to appointments or helping out with the child care.

While Morrisseau's husband is at work, she has her hands full in their townhouse apartment.

On a visit to their home, her three-year-old son Peter has his pants on backward playing a video game with his brother Steven, six. Baby Elizabeth, nine months, watches her brothers but stays close to her mom.

When the boys get too close to the TV screen Morrisseau, clutching the remote control, shuts it off. Looking back at her own beginnings, Morrisseau doesn't know much about her biological mother who has died, other than she drank while she was pregnant. She met her birth dad and his family before he died, but they wouldn't talk about her mom.

Morrisseau said she, definitely, did not drink while she was pregnant.

"I didn't want my kids to be like me."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2011 J3

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