This is the keynote address given by Teresa Kellerman at the Arizona FASDAY bell ringing ceremony in Tucson on September 9, 2004 written 15 minutes before she dashed out the door. It was sent as an Op-Ed piece to all local and national newspapers and networks. The keynote address for 2005 will be posted after it is written, probably immediately prior to FASDAY 2005!
Today Was the First National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day – September 9, 2004
Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota announced in the U. S. Senate this morning that today is the first National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day. Senator Lisa Murkowski then spoke about how Bonnie Buxton and Brian Philcox in Toronto and Teresa Kellerman in Tucson, Arizona, got together in early 1999 to discuss the frustration they felt about the lack of awareness about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). Senator Murkowski noted that President Bush had written a letter acknowledging the grassroots efforts of individuals all across the nation in their efforts to raise awareness about the danger of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Senator Daschle stated that observing FASD Day will help bring information to those who need it the most. Senator Daschle did not identify the group that would need to know about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). I asked myself, “Who needs to know about FASD the most?”
Who needs to know about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the devastating results to individuals so exposed? Who needs to know that alcohol causes more damage to the developing baby’s brain than any other substance? Who needs to know that 40,000 babies are born in the U.S. every year with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects? Who needs to know that most of these babies will appear to be normal and may never receive a diagnosis, but will be so impaired that they will not be able to function successfully in schools, in society, in life? Who needs to know about FASD?
Pregnant women? Of course, we all want pregnant women to abstain from alcohol while they are pregnant and when they are nursing to protect their baby's health. What about the pregnant woman who cannot stop drinking because of her addiction, because adequate treatment is not available to her? What about the woman who has already had a child with FAS, who may be alcohol affected herself and does not have the capacity to make healthy decisions for herself or her baby?
What about the doctors, many of whom are still saying “A drink or two won’t hurt”? One drink a day during pregnancy is equal to 30 baby bottles full of liquor.
What about the men who have a major influence on the drinking behavior of their pregnant partners?
What about women of childbearing age before they get pregnant, considering that half of all pregnancies are unplanned and therefore many babies are exposed unknowingly to dangerous amount of alcohol?
What about these young men and women before their brains are impacted by the indelible messages imprinted by the alcohol industry through media and advertising?
What about the foster and adoptive parents who care for children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure – 80% come from homes where alcohol is abused – many of these children without obvious symptoms, without a diagnosis, without an explanation for their behavior disorders and inability to learn how to live and learn in their new environment?
What about the teachers who have unrealistic expectations for these children, most of whom do not qualify for special education but who struggle with or without mental retardation with learning disabilities, some who have a label of FAS or FAE, most of whom only carry the label “problem child” or “weirdo” or “stupid”? They are not stupid, they just make the same mistakes over and over because they cannot learn from the consequences of their actions.
What about the social workers in the Child Protective Services system who are taking children out of homes where alcohol abuse is a factor, and placing children back into those homes without adequate treatment or precautions, because no one recognizes FASD in the children, and no one recognizes possible alcohol effects in the parents?
What about the Developmental Disabilities support coordinators and therapists who have many cases of children with FASD without even realizing that is what they are dealing with, and therefore provide services that do not fit their needs, that do not provide the protection they need, and that in many cases place these children at even greater risk?
What about the judges and the lawyers and the probation officers and law enforcement personnel who run individuals through the revolving door of the criminal justice system without giving them the chance they need to succeed, instead setting them up to fail again and again, putting these innocent criminals at risk of harming themselves and others?
What about the colleges that are teaching the professionals of tomorrow, the parents of tomorrow, whose students are a high risk group for drinking during pregnancy?
What about the individuals themselves who are affected? They need to understand the nature of their disability so they can accept the reality of the risk imposed on them by alcohol damage, so they can depend on the restrictions that will keep them safe from abuse, addiction, homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, injury, and accidental death because of their immaturity, vulnerability, and poor judgment.
Which of these groups needs to be informed the most?
We all need to learn about FASD, because we are all in this together. We are all affected. We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to do something about the lack of awareness in our community and our country. What will you do to raise awareness today? Tomorrow? This week? This year?
Join me and my son John, who has FAS, in our commitment to raise awareness whenever and wherever we can – in meetings, at doctor appointments, at work, at social gatherings, one-on-one in conversations with family and friends. Talk about FASD. Ask questions about FASD. Bring up issues about FASD. Because this is how awareness is raised. One blessed butterfly at a time. Because this is how we can make a difference for our own children and others who may not have anyone to speak up for them. Because we are all in this together. And together we can make a difference!
Learn more about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and FASDAY here: www.fasday.com
Director, FAS Community Resource Center
Co-Founder FASworld and International FAS Awareness Day
FAS Community Resource Center