A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

Posts tagged ‘social development’

FASD & Society’s Children

When Bonnie and I adopted a three year-old blond tomboy, we never realized what an amazing journey she we lead us on. It was she who led us into the strange world of FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) and we know we’re going to be here for the duration. Working with other parents whose children struggle with FASD has given us insights into the anguish, the agony , the pride and the generosity of a cross-section of the most amazing parents you could ever encounter.

Our FASworld Toronto support group meets monthly at The Hospital for Sick Children and there is a never-ending confidential sharing of triumphs, trials and strategies. Our major concern is the inability of the establishment (schools, faith groups, social services and governments) to understand the devastating struggle faced by families trying to keep their children with FASD in school and out of jail. Many policymakers, teachers and police assume that our children have normal brains. They don’t, and here’s why. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the teratogenic effect disrupts the neuropathways of the developing brain of the fetus.

The affected child will grow up with a mosaic of disabilities: poor memory, impulsivity, inability to predict consequences, inability to learn from experience and, often a lack of an ethical centre.

This individual will usually drop out of school early, start using substances to try to feel normal and have many interactions with the justice system. He or she will have difficulty with abstract subjects, managing money and fulfilling commitments. Some custodial workers and supervisors of prisons have told us that at least 80% of the inmates in their care struggle with some form of FASD. At the rate of $110,000 per inmate per year, that’s a hefty penalty for society to pay for maternal drinking in pregnancy. Add the expense of special education, welfare and other social services, and we see a lifetime cost of at least $2 million per affected individual.

Health Canada estimates that 1% of all newborns are affected but that may be too conservative. That  figure suggests we have over 300,000 Canadians struggling with FASD today. These costs are equivalent to the entire national debt. Our federal government has determined that we should be “tough on crime” by expanding the prison system and have mandatory sentences for certain crimes. That will certainly keep our prisons overflowing with our alcohol affected youth and adults who will come through that experience as dedicated criminals.

We don’t need more prisons or mandatory sentences. We do need our medical schools to teach medical students about FASD. We need diagnostic teams across the country to identify those individuals who need diversion, not prison. A person with FASD is not responsible for the brain trauma suffered before birth. But those individuals deserve our support in ways that will integrate them into the mainstream.

Prevention in the first place is critical and the education of professionals and the general public is essential. After that, we must find better ways to help individuals with FASD to become productive members of society. Because they have difficulty processing information, we have to recognize that their brains are like file cabinets without the benefit of file folders.

Let’s look at alternative residential facilities — not jails — where they can learn   to work at hands-on activities that don’t require abstract studies. Many could succeed in the hospitality industry, music, art, or working with animals. They can thrive if we give them the time and opportunity to develop at their own pace. They are ten second people in a one second world. We know of dormant physical structures in Ontario that could be brought back to life to educate and train them.

This would cost money. But it wouldn’t be wasted money  that breeds criminality in those punitive locations we call prisons. Will we still need jails for villains? Of course we will. But we will reduce crime and build a better society.

A Man Can Dream, Can’t He?

While trying to gather the fragments of a disorderly life and bring my computer files back into working order, I came across a handwritten note I had written to myself sometime last year. It was simply titled, “Dreams for 2011”. Here they are:

  • Religious bullies let up and let live.
  • Let’s distinguish between hope and reasonable expectations.
  • Let’s stop honouring the war machine and its greedy adherents.
  • Let’s protect ourselves with a national securities regulator.
  • Let’s take care of Canadians in difficulty abroad.
  • Let’s close ‘prisons’ and open ARND training residences.
  • Beverage alcohol industry learns to take responsibility for its products.
  • Shareholders realize that the high cost of doing business is not labour costs but excessive senior management remuneration.
  • Clean water for all, especially on aboriginal reserves.
  • Establish a clear cut purpose and mission trajectory for the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • Politicians make the fundamental shift from what is best for their parties to what is best for society.
  • Let’s get rid of first past the post elections.
  • Let’s hope there will be no more fighting over religious mythologies. 

    Some dreams! Some dreamer!

Opportunity Knocks

Have you ever been knocked on your butt by an opportunity that you just can’t resist? The common complaint is there aren’t enough opportunities to get ahead. That’s ridiculous! We are presented with opportunities every day, but some of us don’t see them or simply ignore them. Think about all those times when you could have said a kind word or complimented someone on something he or she did.

No, I’m not talking about all those schemes that appear in your electronic mailbox that promise to make you a millionaire entrepreneur without leaving your desk. I’m talking about all those chances to help someone else, either by word or deed. Did you do something today that your partner usually does but you took a couple of minutes to knock it off instead. Getting ahead isn’t just about making more money. Truly getting ahead is about enriching your relationships with those you care about.

For example, think about how you behaved with your partner when you were beginning your courtship. Yes, courtship — that’s what we do when we want to impress the object of our affection so that he or she will be impressed with us in return. If the relationship turns into friendship — that’s wonderful. If it becomes a love match, even better. My point is, you don’t quit the courtship rituals once you have become a committed partnership. While the ‘grand gesture’ is always nice, the little everyday gestures are the ones that will be remembered and cherished.

However, the opportunities that floor me (like a knuckle sandwich!) are the ones that are so irresistable that they take me away from all the other things I’m supposed to be doing. That, in turn, increases work load and stretches patience, coordination and mental stability to their limits. It seems like everyday there is some new way of doing more to achieve the goals of our work on FASD. Just when I think I can get myself organized so that I can begin to find the files I already have put together, there is another ‘opportunity’ to create a program or do something to reach out to new audiences about what we call the most common, most expensive, yet most preventables of all mental disorders.

Recently, with less than two weeks notice, the Ontario Government came up with a program called EnAbling Change through the Ministry of Community and Social Services.  The program seeks organizations like ours to find ways of helping employers respond more effectively to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

This was too tempting to resist so we made our application which took about ten working days to put together. This involved explaining the rationale behind our competence to carry out the project we were proposing and developing a full marketing and communication plan to carry the project forward. Of course, this meant dropping everything else in order to meet an arbitrary deadline without any certainty that we would get the approval and the funding for our project. And, if we get approval for our application, we’ll have further disruption of our already muddled work regime.

So, do we let these kinds of opportunities slide by or keep reaching out for new ways to do things? I think we know the answer to that. Let’s face it, we are opportunity susceptible — or as some would say, opportunity addicted.

More recent reading…

About ten years ago, I happened to catch the CBC Radio program Ideas. It usually comes on in the evening and carries a specific theme for five weeknights in a row. The subjects cover everything from the justice system to new concepts in art. On this occasion it was John Ralston Saul on a subject he called “The Unconscious Civilization”. I found it intriguing enough that I sent away for the audio tapes of the presentation and for the print version. Well, this also happened to be around the time I was negotiating my retirement package from Consumers Gas and subsequently setting up my home office business. Thus, the package arrived (i.e. the book and tapes) and they sat on my bookshelf for all these years since.

However, earlier this summer, as I was culling through my novels and thrillers that could be passed on to others, I picked it up and started reading. I found it was still fascinating ten years later and the positions taken by Ralston Saul were very much still on the mark. He very clearly identified some of the major problems we have in our society in relation to our inability to count on our governments to manage our economy. In effect, he said that we are totally within the thrall of the corporate organizations that buy our politicians and who respond only to their stockholders rather than the community at large.

But we always knew that didn’t we? Or was it only sub-consciously? It is a very articulate argument for taking action and getting involved with our communities. He has not taken a partisan side politically but leaves the choice of action up to each of us. Available still in paperback from Anansi, it is an important read for every citizen who cares about the direction of our society. ****