Lives and crimes: Kids who suffer foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Lives and crimes: Kids who suffer foetal alcohol spectrum disorder

By: Patrick Begley, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 2014

Accessed on: 20 Feb 2014

Commentary by: Krystal Glowatski

While this article is focused on FASD in the Australian context, the author does an excellent job of outlining some of the issues FASD presents for clients and professionals in the justice system.

Australian FASD experts have claimed their country is about 20 years behind Canada in the recognition of FASD.  Many justice professionals still are not aware of the disorder or how it impacts the justice system experience.  This is a timely piece, as we are soon hosting a workshop targeted toward helping front-line workers (i.e., justice professionals, social workers, and those who work in community-based organizations) strategize effective ways to work with clients who have FASD and available resources to proceed with this work.

Some of the issues associated with FASD, as outlined in this article are: lack of patience, impulsivity, issues with memory/event recall, and short attention span.  Consequently, this may result in repeatedly breaking the law, lack of understanding action and consequence, false confessions, and the possibility of easy manipulation.

The author of this article points out a number of times that FASD is indeed brain damage – something that doesn’t seem to be expounded on nearly enough in my opinion.  Let me say it again, FASD is a brain injury.  This means that while some people display the physical attributes associated to the disorder (such as small stature, small eyes, a thin top lip, etc.), many individuals with FASD do not present at all.  However, this doesn’t mean they don’t suffer in terms of mental abilities.  If someone is in an accident and suffers an ABI (acquired brain injury), you can see how they may be affected by the injury cognitively and behaviorally.  It is the same with individuals who have FASD – they essentially have a brain injury – it’s just that the brain was injured during prenatal development.

The author also refers to FASD as “the hidden harm.”  In other words, this disorder may often be mistaken for other disorders such as autism or ADD.  I know from speaking with professionals in the field that misdiagnosing FASD is perhaps one of the worst things that could happen to the individual with FASD.  The treatment and practices surrounding FASD are much different than those associated to autism or attention deficit disorders, and could actually be harmful to the individual who has been misdiagnosed.  Furthermore, a misdiagnosis may mean the individual never receives an accurate diagnosis.

Australia has set aside government funds to approach FASD, however, as this article discusses, it’s unclear how they are going to go about using the funds.  Some say there’s too much focus on prevention (something I believe I have stated in previous blog posts on this site), and not enough allocation or attention to those who already have FASD – we cannot forget about these individuals.

While this has been a lengthy post, I really encourage you to read the article itself.  The author, along with the subject matter experts, have done a wonderful job of summarizing the impacts of FASD on the justice system – both for justice professionals and for the clients who are affected by FASD.

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