A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT
June 14, 1999
To: President and Hillary Clinton,
Twenty three years ago a young woman who was pregnant was abandoned by her husband. She had no job, no money, no health insurance and no family. Alone, she turned to alcohol for comfort. Eventually, she returned to school. Got some good training and got a good job but all the good things came too late for the child she was carrying during the time she was relying on alcohol. This child was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Being a single parent, this mom was not able to take proper care of a child who never slept and was constantly ill. Eventually she was forced to place the child in an institution for the mentally retarded.
Fortunately, for the child in this story, a friend at the institution told me about the new child at the school and asked for my assistance. I had worked with hundreds of delayed children and was confident that I could help this child gain the skills necessary to live with her family again. I was naive. I had not met FAS head on before. I had had wonderful success teaching children with other forms of mental retardation to dress, eat and use the bathroom appropriately. This time it did not work the way I thought it would.
Sixteen years ago when this child came to live with us I really thought I knew the answers. I now know that FAS is different the answers are different. She has learned many good and wonderful things. She still cannot dress, eat and use the bathroom appropriately for her age. The brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol damages the brain's ability to communicate within itself. This young woman has no appropriate sense of hot or cold. If she looks at a thermometer outdoors, she can read the temperature but cannot reason out what type of clothes she is to wear in hot weather or cold. She needs constant guidance to make it from day to day without placing herself at risk.
Despite all that some of us have learned about FAS, we still find that most teachers and school personnel do not recognize that this disability is different from other forms of mental retardation. Despite all that has been written about FAS, we find that more women are drinking while pregnant than there were in 1992. Despite all the research by the medical profession, we find that many many doctors still cannot recognize FAS in their patients. Despite the efforts made by social workers, therapists, and schools, we are finding that approximately 40% of those in our state prisons are disabled by prenatal exposure to alcohol.
I cannot condemn the ignorance of others as I was once ignorant myself. However I cannot see a healthy outcome for our country if we continue in this mass ignorance. I am asking you to lend us your support in turning the tide of ignorance concerning this disability.