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Making a difference: Family spreads word about disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome

Making a difference: Family spreads word about disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome


The Montana Standard

By Paula J. McGarvey

October 16, 2015

MONTANA – One person can make a difference.


That’s the message being spread by Craig Peterson and his adopted sons, Andrew, 22, and Michael, 21, both of whom are affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the permanent brain damage and physical changes brought about by prenatal exposure to alcohol.


The three, who live in Indianapolis, are on a two-week, nine-venue speaking tour of Washington and Montana. Their tour is increasing awareness about intellectual disabilities, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder — a condition affecting roughly 40,000 babies born in the U.S. each year.


Craig Peterson is the author of “Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love,” the story of his 16-year spiritual journey in the role of single dad to six adopted children with special needs.


Butte’s Farm in the Dell, a local private faith-based nonprofit group home serving adults with intellectual disabilities, sponsored the Peterson’s presentation Wednesday at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Butte.


For Craig Peterson, a Billings native, a successful career working in administration, education and the nonprofit sector had brought him to a place of financial security. He found himself living and working in Indiana and wanting more out of life.


“I wanted to make a difference and had the financial means to do so,” he said.


That difference occurred in 1998 when he adopted four siblings ranging in age from 3 to 8. Those children included Andrew and Michael, along with their sister and brother — all of whom had been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.


He said the training he received prior to parenting failed to amply prepare him for the task he’d undertaken. But, practice makes perfect, and with love, determination and patience, he began to make a positive impact on his children’s lives. Two and a half years later, he adopted two more boys, ages 9 and 10, who also suffered with intellectual disabilities.


As the father of six children with special needs, Craig also learned how great of an impact others can have on people with disabilities.


He cited the efforts of one particular speech therapist, who worked with Andrew, who when adopted at age 5 couldn’t articulate words. With Craig’s help, she had Andrew speaking by the end of kindergarten.


Throughout their lives, Craig has worked with all his children to maximize their potential and help them become all that they can be. Even more powerful than Craig’s accounts are the contributions to the presentation by his sons.


Michael opens the talk with a moving rendition of the national anthem, followed by a song, “Get it Right” from the television series “Glee,” later in the presentation. Michael, who also writes some of his own songs, told an inquisitive audience member that he draws on emotion and experience during his performances: “People that helped me along the way, people that abandoned me, past relationships that abused me — that kind of made me stronger — so when I sing, I use that, all together, to make me more passionate,” he said.


Older brother Andrew found his special gift in his ability to run, earning four varsity letters running cross country track by the time he was in middle school. His other accomplishments include numerous Special Olympic gold medals; an appearance in Runner’s World magazine; regular speaking engagements for Champions Together, a program sponsored by the Indiana High School Athletic Association and the Indiana Special Olympics; and most recently the title of 2014 Indiana Special Olympic Athlete of the Year.


Andrew, who speaks slowly but deliberately, had these words to share with the audience: “I don’t ever want your pity; rather, I need your respect. The respect all people with disabilities deserve.”


With the help of their dad, both young men have found purpose in life, in spite of the challenges living with FASD presents them. Andrew’s accolades have earned him an online presence, which is fueling the family’s invitations for speaking engagements. The talks are creating a positive impact.


“When we have the discussion, we really open people’s hearts,” Craig said.


Craig wants to encourage people to find understanding and see beyond people’s disabilities.


“Let’s not get so fixated on the labels that we … forget about the individual,” he added.