The Most Preventable Birth Defect is Costing All of Us Billions

Today, in honor of national Fetal Alcohol Syndrome awareness day, I’m going to tell you about my brother.

In 1999, after many failed attempts to have another child, my parents decided to adopt two toddlers from Russia. Their names were Ilya Sadriev, and Roman Schneider. For privacy purposes, I will not be using their current given names.

Roman was energetic, but not so much that we thought too much of it. When we adopted the two boys, my parents were informed that Roman’s mother had drank while he was in utero, but a physician had told them this “would just make him a little more hyper.” A few years later, after his energy seemed to be growing, and after switching physicians, my brother was given the diagnoses of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, (or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder).

What is FAS?  Well, it affects the brain of the fetus when they are in certain development stages, causing damaged neurons and other mental problems. Below is a picture comparing a regular brain, and one with FAS.

fas-brain

FASD (the current term) is never outgrown. The side effects include: aggression, an inability to understand consequences, impulsive behavior, poor memory, and a high likelihood to have another mental disability. For example, Roman was also diagnosed with ADHD, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ODD, RAD, Depression, Auditory processing delays, and I think there’s more. FASD is considered to be the leading cause of developmental disabilities and mental retardation world wide. (Journal of FAS International, 2004)

Because of side affects like these, individuals with FASD tend to have drug and alcohol problems, propensity toward violence, and are 19 times more likely to end up in the prison system. There are a variety of statistics I found on the exact percentage of the prison population make-up, but most tend to be in agreement that well over half of the population suffers from some sort of in-utero exposure to alcohol.

Here are some statistics:

  • 94% of individuals with an FASD also have a mental illness
  • 50% of adolescents and adults displayed inappropriate sexual behavior
  • 60% of people with an FASD have a history of trouble with the law
  • 50% of individuals with an FASD have a history of confinement in a jail, prison, residential drug treatment facility, or psychiatric hospital
  • 73-80% of children with full-blown FAS are in foster or adoptive placement
  • FASD is 10-15 times more prevalent in the foster care system than in the general population
  • 61% of adolescents with an FASD experienced significant school disruptions

But what is the dollar amount we pay every year as American for this?

$6 Billion.

Billion. With a B. It’s not a euphemism when I say this 100% preventable defect is costing us.

Back to my brother. As the years passed, he became more and more difficult, acting out, yelling, and eventually turning to violence, both toward others, and himself. He cut his hands all the time, and tried to stab my other brother. Between that, and his behavior at school (most other kids were afraid of him), he was eventually deemed “unfit” to live at home, as he was causing an unsafe environment. He was moved to a care facility out of state for troubled teens.

My parents were devastated. They had tried everything. They began a regimen of medications and physical/occupational therapies at an early age.  They tried every philosophy that came along.  Since you can never go back and do things differently, they aren’t sure how effective any of these things were, but they had hope that their efforts were helping. Now, however, it looks as if the care facility he’s at is the best option. He’s been there a few months, and is finally showing some progress. We can talk to him twice a week, and visit on occasion, and I can say, I’ve never seen him doing so well.

My heart breaks when I think of my brother, and the life he has cut out for him. The constant struggle to not be a statistic and end up in jail will be difficult. But there are other little things. I remember sitting with him, listening to him tell me how hard it was to make friends, how frustrated he was that it took him a month to figure out what the other kids figured out in a day, and how unfair it felt that he hadn’t done anything, but he still was “stupid.” He said that all the time. “Why am I so stupid?” I wanted to cry and hug him, but he wasn’t a touchy person. The problem he has is he’s just smart enough to know that he has tons of limitations. But maybe, just maybe, he can overcome them.

But for the rest of you, please, please, don’t do to your kids what my brother’s biological mother did to him. Don’t drink when you’re pregnant. Not at all. Not a glass of wine here or there. None. They still haven’t been able to figure out exactly when and how much causes it. There have been cases of women who thought they only had a little, but ended up with a child who had FASD. The cost is too high for all of us, in money, and in lives. Don’t play Russian roulette with your child’s brain.

If you would like to donate toward my brother’s medical expenses which my parents are having to pay out of pocket, click below. All contributions through this PayPal button go toward him. 

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Sources:

FASD and the Criminal Justice System

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in America – A Silent Crisis

http://www.rethinking.org.nz/Default.aspx?page=4343

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