FASD Support Group Unleashes New Techniques for Youth

Baxter's Circle of Support

By: Alexa McIndoe, alexa@mofas.org

Nervous. Anxious. Shy. Worried. Restless. Confused. Stressed. These are feelings teens and young adults with an FASD may feel before they go to a Baxter Circle of Support group. When they leave they feel calm, relieved, uplifted, positive, happy, open, and relaxed.

Baxter’s Circle of Support isn’t a typical support group. This one includes a special guest and a sensory-friendly environment. Natural light fills the room, tranquil music plays softly in the background, and candles are lit on tables around the room. To help make participants even more comfortable, a basket of fidgets is nearby to keep their hands occupied and attendees can grab a bean bag chair to throw on the floor in a circle.

Each session is run by two MOFAS staff and has the same basic flow. An outline of their activities is posted on the wall as a helpful tool for participants to see and understand when there will be transitions during the session. This creates consistency which helps to lower participants’ levels of anxiety by knowing what to expect.

The special guest is Baxter, a golden retriever who attends the support group and is very well received by the youth. Baxter’s calm temperament makes everyone feel comfortable as he slowly walks around the circle as each attendee does a short three minute check-in with a sand timer. The check-ins are used to create a positive framework for discussion once everyone has shared. Baxter’s company helps the youth when they are nervous, shy, or embarrassed to open up and makes things easier when they pet him.

“Research shows that just petting a dog releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and affection, and also decreases levels of stress, helps us breathe easier and lowers our blood pressure.”

– Dr. Walter Woolf, Veterinary Consultant

As the group wraps up, there is a five minute meditation or mindfulness activity. Baxter doesn’t stick around for this; he would just lick all their faces when their eyes are closed.

This support group for youth and young adults ages 14-25 who have an FASD was created to give them a safe place to share what they are feeling and be supported by others who know exactly what they are going through. If you know of someone interested in attending and meeting Baxter, join us on the 2nd Saturday of the month from 10:00 am to 11:00 am at the MOFAS office, 2233 University Ave W, Suite 395, St. Paul, MN 55114. Contact Marissa Lang, Marissa@mofas.org or 651-917-2370, for more information or to RSVP.

You might be interested in learning more about therapy animals found on the MOFAS website.

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Copyright © 2017 Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome | Photos by Amy Zellmer, Custom Creations Photography.

This site is provided to families and professionals as an informative site on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is not intended to replace professional medical, psychological, behavioral, legal, nutritional or educational counsel. Reference to any specific agency does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MOFAS.