We're aware of FASD. Now what?

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2010

Today is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. Our community is becoming pretty savvy about this disability. We have a lot more to learn, but overall, we've done well to educate ourselves about what happens when mom drinks during pregnancy.

So, in some ways, this is a day of celebration for us. We've come a long way.

But it's also an opportunity to educate ourselves further. You see, we're great at diagnosing it, but then we're not quite sure what to do for these people to help them be safe and successful in life. We don't have a lot of great interventions for people with brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure. It does no good to tell a family, "Here's your diagnosis. Have a good life." Thus, we depend on teachers, human services agencies, and health professionals to come along side and understand what this brain damage looks like and what this family needs, and that in itself is a huge intervention.

The Kenai Peninsula is recognizing FASD Awareness in several ways throughout the month, most notably with a day-long educational conference for legal professionals called "The Hidden Problem of FASD in the Courtroom" which will feature four noted presenters with expertise in this area. Some common characteristics of FASD are that individuals have trouble making good decisions, connecting consequences to actions, learning from mistakes, controlling impulses, planning an outcome -- it's all Ready Fire Aim. They are very concrete thinkers, and struggle to understand concepts of what is right or wrong or fair, or what constitutes a friendship, or what ownership of property is about. They act and think much younger than their chronological age.

Can you see how this could get a person in trouble? And if people didn't know it was because of brain damage, can you imagine the trouble might be far more serious?

We encounter people with FASD every day. Most of them do not have a diagnosis, and probably don't know that they have brain damage. They just know that they struggled in school, struggle with keeping jobs, struggle in relationships, and are well-accustomed to failure.

Even those who have an official diagnosis and a support system in place can end up in the revolving doors of the courts, treatment centers, and jail. Aside from the devastation this can create for a family, it is a vexing problem for legal professionals who are puzzled by individuals who show up again and again, often times for the same offenses, and for repeated failures at carrying out orders for probation or treatment.

If you are a judge, attorney, social worker, law maker, law enforcer, or anyone who deals with individuals encountering the legal system, we invite you to join us this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Challenger Learning Center for a solution-focused day of understanding how we can best understand and serve this population. There is no cost for the training and CLE credits are available.

Vickie Tinker is the coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula FASD Program. You may contact her for information on the above conference, for information on diagnosis, other trainings, and resources at vtinker@fcsonline.org or 714-6648.

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