FASD no obstacle for German horse rider
Riding for Germany, Sinja Gibson will compete in the equestrian
events at the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2007 in Shanghai,
China. Held October 2-11, 2007, more than 7,500 athletes will compete
in 25 sports.
Hamburg 2004 and Berlin 2006: 2 exciting cities, 1 fantastic event,
1,000 emotions – THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS! Our sister Sinja had
the great honour to participate as a rider in those competitions.
Hamburg, when she was 15 years old, was her first meeting with the
Special Olympics, and then two years later she was in Berlin. We
were so excited and proud of her.
In Berlin, the big opening ceremony – with many V.I.P.’s,
dance and music – was the appropriate start for the wonderful
event. Hundreds of athletes from all parts of Germany, as well as
other European countries, filled the hall one after the other. In
the arena and in the audience you could see beaming, happy and proud
faces. And then the big moment: The Olympic fire was carried into
the hall. There was an enthusiastic cheer as it was lighted and
the Olympic thought was expressed, "Let me win. But if I cannot
win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Sinja and her family (Sinja is 4th from
Sinja's participation at the games was an unbelievable success.
In both Hamburg and Berlin she won Gold in all her disciplines;
in addition, in Hamburg she had to ride out of concurrence as nobody
was in her class, and in Berlin she even scored 9.0 points in dressage.
We watched as our Sinja, who could hardly read and write, stood
there, with a gold medal around her neck and a #1 below her. We
cannot fully explain how proud we were and how many tears of happiness
It was Sinja's 18th birthday during the Berlin games, and 2,000
people sang happy birthday to her at the ceremony. Afterwards, she
even had to sign many autographs. Who could imagine this was real?
At last she got the tribute she deserved for her achievements. Nobody
asked what was wrong with her, nobody stared at her. Here she was
Sinja, how she wanted to be, and it felt really good.
Of course, we were especially happy and proud because Sinja won
in her competitions. But even if she had been in last place, the
memories would be just as good because she had the chance to shine,
make many friendships, and even to meet her first love at the Special
Olympics. All over the place we could feel the atmosphere, and often
those who hadn't won were just as happy as those who had. After
the presentation of the medals everybody – disabled or not
– waved their hands in the air and sang "We Will Win"
with all their hearts. At the Special Olympics it doesn't matter
whether you are physically or intellectually disabled, the only
thing that counts is who you are and how much fun you have.
All that is left for us to say is that the Special Olympics will
stay in our hearts forever, and we are very proud that Sinja was
nominated for the German equestrian team participate at the 2007
World Summer Games in Shanghai. Most of her family will join her
as she travels around halfway across the earth to compete with other
We are so proud of Sinja. And we are sure that her Mum will watch
over her from heaven and make sure those will be special games for
special people from all over the world.
return to top
Mothers speak out about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
The DVD Recovering Hope was created about three years
ago by a team comprised of videographers and birth mothers of children
impacted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The project was sponsored
by SAMHSA’S FASD Center for Excellence, and I think the film’s
approach not only educates, but also illustrates both the public
and personal evolution of attitudes toward mothers who drank during
I was afraid to announce that I was one of THOSE moms who drank
while I was pregnant because of my shame and guilt, and the anger
of others toward drinking moms made it much worse. But, I knew if
I did not share my feelings and experiences, I would not be able
to heal and be a positive parent.
Being approached to contribute to the Recovering Hope
project revived so much of my emotional history. I thought back
to the time when I was first in recovery and how challenging that
was. Then later I had to face the fact that I had caused both my
daughters, one diagnosed with full FAS, the other with FASD, to
have irreparable organic brain damage.
Because of the guilt and shame I felt when I found out that drinking
while I was pregnant had harmed my daughters (I had already been
sober for ten years at the time), I believed it was not helpful
to allow women in early recovery to face this horror. I thought
it might cause a mom to relapse, or, at the very least, to make
her recovery more difficult.
So, when asked to be part of a network of recovering birth moms
and to work on this video, I had mixed feelings. Should this information
be part of a woman’s early treatment and recovery? After accessing
my 12-step program of recovery, and realizing that I was trying
to control the uncontrollable, I began to understand how important
it would be to a family’s recovery to have information about
FASD, and to know how to find resources for help.
Being part of the development team for this DVD was amazing. Individually,
the mothers had wonderful ideas, and, as a group shared experiences,
we were able to respect each other and work as a well-oiled team.
The director talked with each mom separately, asking each of us
what we thought should be part of the video. Then, during the process
of outlining the script, filming, editing and re-editing, we were
included in conference calls that allowed us to make corrections
and give fresh ideas as needed. Given that each of us is pretty
talkative, it speaks much about his abilities that he was able to
single out the important points. We were all thrilled with the finished
product, as it included everything we had wanted.
Another important aspect of the video was that the director and
his team came to our homes to film. This allowed them to meet us
and see for themselves who we were as individuals and families,
not just alcoholics. For example, they happened to be in town when
JulieGelo was having a birthday party for one of her children impacted
by FASD, so the support group parents and their children were there
for the filming as well. When they came to our home, both my daughters
were there. We invited them for lunch; they joined us, and got to
know us as a family. This, I think, is reflected in the comfortable
feel of the video.
Although there are families from all over the country represented
in this video, it was exciting for us here in Washington state that
many of our esteemed helpers and professionals are also a part of
this video. With clarity and empathy, they give information about
FASD, and how difficult it is to be a mom in recovery.
Has this video helped to diminish anger at addicted mothers who
drink while they are pregnant? My brother, Tom Ten Eyck, teaches
addiction classes at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon.
He has been showing this video in some of his classes for a couple
of years. He told me that many of the students react to the video
with extreme anger….”How could any woman drink while
she was pregnant when she knows she might harm her child?”
Tom said that a lengthy discussion often follows, enabling the students
in the class who are not addicted to begin to get an understanding
of the power of addiction. He believes that the video has helped
some students to get in touch with their anger, to verbalize it,
and hopefully to begin to pass through the anger to understanding.
I believe this video/dvd is a valuable addition to the resources
available about FASD, and it is the first available that focuses
on how birthmothers can incorporate their recovery with positive
parenting skills if their child has FASD.
To order free copies of the DVD, visit SAMHSA’s FASD
Center Web site, the database for resources, journals and information
return to top
Alcohol and drug hotline extends beyond
the phone line
The Washington State Alcohol and
Drug Hotline (ADHL) started as a bare-bones operation called
the Alcohol Help Line 28 years ago, and has evolved considerably
Like many of the hotline’s original volunteers, I had done
hours of volunteer, and later paid, phone work for Dial-a-Bottle,
a program funded to answer calls from those wanting resources and
treatment information for alcohol problems in King County, Washington.
When Dial-a-Bottle closed in February of 1979, I moved to the Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome program at the University of Washington in Seattle
to do phone work and training for their “5-Health Line.”
Helping on the FAS line was a wonderful learning experience for
me as a former health teacher and alcohol counselor. Though I left
the FAS line after a few months to start the Alcohol Help Line,
that experience has certainly had us incorporate a good deal of
training around pregnancy and alcohol/drug usage so that our many
volunteers can inform the appropriate callers.
When we started the Help Line in 1979, we had a card table, one
phone line and no chairs, along with a dedicated board of directors
and a cadre of trained volunteers from the Dial-a-Bottle program.
Board members laugh now and talk about having to bring their own
folding chairs so they could sit during meetings. Since our grant
from the county was fairly small, we needed to prove our worth by
our call volume. We took turns having the phones transferred to
our homes at night, and then the first hiring we did was to retain
In our 28 years of operation, we are proud that every caller has
connected with a live person rather than automated help. We became
a statewide resource with our 1-800-562-1240 number in 1982. In
1984, we added a generic line to maintain current information about
support groups and meeting times. In 1986, the county ombudsman
asked to include us on the jail’s speed dial to provide resource
information to inmates. We did this for two years, and our number
of callers increased by 30,000, clearly showing a need. But, since
there was no funding for this service and the jail’s high
call volume put an extreme burden on our phone volunteers and staff,
we very sadly had to cut this service.
In 1998, ADHL assumed the Clearinghouse contract to mail free brochures,
posters, videos, booklets and other printed drugs and alcohol information
(in a variety of languages) to those who request it. The Clearinghouse
distributes information at conferences, health fairs and trainings
across the state of Washington, and the materials and a lending
library are also available online at http://clearinghouse.adhl.org.
We now also offer an active Teen Line staffed by students from
the local high schools. They are all trained about adolescent resources,
and do some of their work via email as more teens find them on the
Internet. For the past three years the teens have furnished weekend
breakfasts for a teen shelter, preparing interesting breakfasts
that are healthy and fun.
Lately ADHL has been involved with Spotlight on Recovery. This
project aims to decrease the stigma of addiction, and provide opportunities
for those in recovery to be more visible role models for others.
Spotlight on Recovery
also partnered with Fairfax Hospital and the Seattle Parks Department
to establish a recovery garden in the White Center area of Seattle.
ADHL staff members are also heavily involved in outreach, joining
many committees in the state to promote awareness, address counselor
concerns and women’s issues, and assist with training and
educational requirements. In the area of domestic violence, we offer
a free group to shelters to teach women about addiction and alcoholism
and allow them to seek counseling while in a safe environment. We
bridged these two systems in 1994 and have had much success.
We have also had the privilege of working with so many dedicated
volunteers since our conception – including one that for 16
years served as the Sunday afternoon phone worker. While ADHL asks
each volunteer for a year’s commitment following 80 hours
of training, we average a 3-year stint from the volunteers. We train
in resources, crisis work, listening skills and support groups,
and take them on treatment visits. Over the years, we have trained
more than 850 volunteers, and many are now working throughout the
state in a wide variety of roles.
With all this success, we continue to look forward, even as we
look back. ADHL’s current Web initiative is “The Evolution
of Chemical Dependency Treatment and Services in Washington State,”
highlighting interviews and stories by early pioneers in substance
abuse treatment. The completed project will include filmed interviews,
timeframes and archived information mined from magazine articles
and other resources. Many interviews will be posted to the site,
including talks with Iceberg board members Marceil Ten
Eyck and Dr. Ann Streissguth.
Looking at the progress of substance abuse awareness and treatment
in our state – and within our organization – illustrates
the commitment and intelligence so many individuals have brought
to this issue. ADHL is pleased to have contributed to this progress.
return to top
A new service opens in Seattle to assess
for FASD in adults and late adolescents
For more than 11 years I have been involved in research at the
University of Washington’s Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit (FADU)
in Seattle. I have served as project director, co-investigator and
principal investigator on several research grants within our unit.
I advanced up the faculty ladder to assistant professor in the UW’s
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and was named the
clinical director of FADU.
In 2006, Janet Huggins and I opened an adult neuropsychological
assessment service at the University of Washington’s Outpatient
Psychiatry Clinic, also featured in Iceberg (September
2006). The clinic was well received, we had many referrals and
we were able to see many individuals with known or suspected FASD.
We were happy with the services we provided and felt that we were
making a valuable contribution. However, operating a clinic within
the complex network of a university system turned out to be an extremely
complicated procedure, and in the end it became too difficult to
maintain. So, as 2006 drew to an end, we made the difficult decision
to close the clinic.
At this same juncture in time, the grants that I had been working
on were ending and I found myself looking for some new challenges.
I knew I wanted to both continue working at the University of Washington
and in the field of FASD, but also felt the need to branch out.
With the closing of the assessment clinic and my belief that its
services were still needed, I decided to continue my work through
private practice. So, with the assistance of the chairman of my
department at the UW, early this year I obtained approval to both
work at the university and open a private practice providing adult
My practice is located in Des Moines, Washington, in an office
I share with three other psychologists and a social worker. In my
private practice I offer adults (16 years and over) a comprehensive
neuropsychological evaluation designed to assess cognitive function,
mental health status and adaptive behavior. I specialize in neuropsychological
assessments for traumatic brain injury (TBI), memory impairment,
stroke, dementia, cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, attention
deficits and FASD.
How is my service unique? There are many very good diagnostic clinics
around the country. They are very well equipped to assess and diagnose
FASD in children and early adolescents; however, these clinics are
often not as well equipped to assess late adolescents and adults.
Thus, the former UW clinic and my current practice fill an important
gap in the diagnosis of individuals with FASD. Many are not diagnosed
as children and live much of their lives not knowing that the cognitive
and behavioral difficulties they suffer from may be related to prenatal
As with the former UW clinic, the testing battery I use was developed
based on the many years of research on FASD conducted at the University
of Washington’s FADU. It measures intellectual functioning,
academic achievement, learning and memory, motor coordination, attention
and executive functioning. Additionally, I measure the person’s
adaptive functioning and screen for mental health concerns. From
this information, and information about prenatal alcohol exposure,
I am able to make an informed diagnosis of Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental
Disorder (ARND), if appropriate, and make recommendations on services
that may be beneficial including state Division of Developmental
Disabilities (DDD), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).
The testing usually involves two visits to my office. During the
first visit, I do an interview with the person and their parent,
caretaker or other loved one, and then do about four hours of individual
testing. On the second visit, usually a couple of weeks later, we
meet again to talk about the results and recommendations.
I can accept referrals from many sources including community providers,
doctors or the justice system. Referrals can also come from parents
and loved ones, and clients may also self-refer. Clients do not
have to live locally, and I have received referrals from around
the country to come to my offices and participate in this assessment.
One benefit of the private practice is that the wait time between
referral and the first visit can be very short. Although I do not
bill insurance companies for the service, clients can seek reimbursement
from their insurer directly.
For more information about these services, please contact me at
206-940-1106, download my brochure
, or visit my Web site at www.connorneuropsychology.com.