Everyone has seen children’s tantrums, but when first-time parents Alicia and Josh Dougherty welcomed 4-year-old foster child Alex into their home, they soon learned that his were titanic by any standards.
“It could be over anything as minimal as, ‘Get your shoes on,’ or, ‘No, you can’t have five donuts,'” Alicia, 39, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
By the time Alex had been with the family for nearly a year and legally adopted, his behavior had escalated to physical aggression.
“Once he rolled up a giant area rug and threw it down the stairs at me,” says Alicia. “The strength when they tantrum is unbelievable.”
The Doughertys, of Pittsford, New York, were unaware that Alex is one of millions of American children who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. FASD can cause a lineup of physical and learning disabilities as well as behavior problems.
“It was the most heartbreaking, soul-ripping, life-altering experience,” says Josh, 41, “but we never considered giving up.”
Instead, the couple immersed themselves in helping their new son, and with the right blend of therapy, diet, medication and careful parenting, “Alex turned that corner,” says Alicia.
And then the Doughertys decided to do it again — and again. Caseworkers were so impressed with the couple’s dedication and success that they continued sending complicated children their way.
“So many people gave up on these kids,” says Alicia, “but they knew we wouldn’t.”
In addition to Alex, now 14, they have adopted five other children suffering from FASD: James, 13, Patrick, 12, Bree, 9, and twins Jordan and Jason, 5.
“We became known as the parents who could handle the difficult behaviors,” says Alicia.
“We figured, if we’re already doing this for one kid, what difference will another one make?” says Josh, a lower school special education teacher and middle and high school coach.