Daniel J Vance

Listen up. Reading this could save a life.

For many Americans, the holiday season involves drinking alcohol. But pregnant women consuming alcohol will almost certainly give their child some degree of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). If you are pregnant, and you drink, your child also drinks.

A National Institutes of Health website has a long list of birth defects found in children of pregnant mothers consuming alcohol, including physical deformities and permanent lifelong problems with language and memory, visual-spatial learning, attention, reaction time, distractibility, impulsivity, and executive function, which includes planning and organizing. I could go on.

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“I worked 18 years on Indian reservations in the Midwest in my career in education,” said 55-year-old Jody Allen Crowe from his home in North Mankato, Minnesota. “I learned there about the devastation caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. About 70-80 percent of the kids I worked with exhibited FAS symptoms.” He remembered one teen with FAS from his teaching days who, he said, “didn’t have any concept of socially appropriate behavior or even how things he did would affect others around him.”

Crowe is director of a charter school in Rochester, Minnesota. Not long ago, he founded a nonprofit group to raise awareness about FAS, called Healthy Brains for Children. The issue of pregnant women drinking alcohol hits home personally: all but one of 34 relatives on his wife’s side of the family were prenatally exposed.

He said, “I believe the vast majority of people in prison were exposed prenatally, probably more than 75 percent. In one study of a county jail, 94 percent of prisoners had mothers that drank alcohol.”

Healthy Brains for Children has new chapters popping up in Idaho, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Colorado. Its sole purpose, unlike other FAS groups, has been preventing alcohol use along the whole spectrum of prenatal exposure. Its primary message: There is no safe exposure to alcohol in pregnancy.

Crowe said, “Unless we focus on prevention, we will continue to be overwhelmed with this increasing flood of children coming to us with brain damage.” He said many children diagnosed with ADHD really have FAS.

Each Healthy Brains for Children chapter has autonomy in creating ways to raise community awareness, which so far has included posters, billboards, school presentations, stroller walk-a-thons, and free bookmarks to teens.

To people seeing pregnant mothers drinking, he urged: Immediately report them to social services.

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