If I were to tell you my father died of lung cancer, what is the first question that comes to mind? "Did he smoke?"
If I were to tell you about a young man who murdered another person, what is the first question that comes to mind? I submit the first question should be, "Did his mother drink any alcohol during her pregnancy?" Science has proven a clear link between lung cancer and smoking, but it took many years and many court cases to bring this fact into the nation's conscience. What most of the population does not know, or has not grasped, is the clear link between alcohol consumption during a pregnancy and the litany of lifelong behaviors and learning disabilities exhibited by the resulting brain damaged child, all entirely preventable.
The recent horrific school shooting in Red Lake brings the need to ask the question to the forefront. News reports have addressed the shooter's behaviors and the fact his mother was injured in a car accident caused by her drinking. While I do not know the young man in question, I worked with many who fit the profile. I believe we would be stunned to know the impact this silent epidemic is having on our society. I waited after the Columbine school shootings to see if anyone asked the question. None did. I waited after the murders committed in our community of Brainerd to see if anyone was asking the question. None did. I can't wait any longer. We need to ask the question.
In Crow Wing County, the focus is on meth and rightly so, but I would even ask the question of meth users if their mother drank any alcohol during the pregnancy. We need to know. Counties across the state are struggling with the high rate of out-of-home placements, juvenile adjudications, increased caseloads, and a rising number of court cases handled by the public defenders. Schools are struggling with more and more special education students. Nationally, the number of children on Ritalin and other prescription drugs is rising. Why? In my experience, we don't know why because we have not asked the question or do not have the will to ask the question of the mother drinking any alcohol during the fetal development. In my opinion, we do not want to risk offending the mother or we simple do not believe this could be the root cause.
We need to ask the question, "Did the mother drink any alcohol during the pregnancy?" each time a baby is born, every time a juvenile is imprisoned, every time a student is tested for disabilities, each time a murderer is convicted, every time a rape is committed, every time someone exhibits inappropriate sexual behaviors, the list goes on. We need to uncover the silent epidemic growing exponentially in our society. We need doctors to ask specifically if the mother has consumed any alcohol during the pregnancy. We need to know as early as possible to have the greatest chance of success with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) baby. We need medical schools to include instruction and research in this subject. We need ongoing and updated continuing education for professionals working with children and adults. Only when we, as a society, are convinced of the link between brain damage caused by fetal alcohol, and tremendous cost of each case, will significant action occur. Please, if only to find out the true impact to our society, please, please ask the question.
JODY ALLEN CROWE has worked for three Minnesota tribal schools over the past 16 years, five years as a teacher, nine years as a principal and two years as a consultant with bureau schools nationally.
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