Rick Sam recently delivered a simple message to Whitehorse.
It’s one we’d all do well to remember.
He asked the community for understanding.
And he asked the community not to be afraid.
That’s easier said than done.
Sam has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
It is rare for someone with FASD to address a lunch-hour crowd themselves. Usually you find experts or educators talking about the disorder.
But during FASD Day recently, Sam was invited into the limelight.
It was a compelling talk.
He doesn’t always think clearly, he said, simply, and proceeded to recount a story that followed the same, deeply troubling arc as so many others.
He’d grown up in foster homes, been abused and, eventually, wound up in the legal system.
Appearing before the courts is daunting for most of us. For people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, it’s particularly scary, said Sam.
“Because I don’t always think clearly, I make foolish mistakes. And I live with those mistakes.”
He lives with them every day.
People with FASD often can’t follow the goings on of the average trial. At the end, after the sentence is delivered, they often don’t know whether they are going home, or to jail, according to Wenda Bradley, a health nurse who often helps people with the disorder.
Too many of them wind up behind bars.
People with the disorder often have normal IQs, but they don’t process information well. There are gaps in their brain that make it difficult to put things in sequence. To generalize. To see the big picture.
So even a trip to a doctor’s office, followed by a prescription to take two pills twice a day can be overwhelming.
But some are raising children. Think about that for a minute.
How do we assist those people?
Bradley wants to set up supportive housing in rural communities like Pelly.
The idea is to get a functioning family to assist a family with FASD, to make sure the children are fed, or to provide assistance when the parents are having a tough time of it.
The need is great, she said.
Bradley even gets questions about whether it’s OK to snort cocaine during pregnancy. Or while breastfeeding.
They seem like stupid questions, but they’re not.
It’s society that is ignorant for not finding ways of dealing with these problems.
Ignoring them is no help. They are not going away.
The territory has no drug- and alcohol-treatment programs in rural Yukon.
And treatment in Whitehorse is lacking. For example, there’s no secondary support once you’ve dried out at alcohol and drug services. You leave, and more often than not, you’ll find yourself back among your drug-using friends.
Given this, the cycle of FASD will continue.
Sam put it best.
“It’s a hard challenge for a mother, and we need to support mothers who have the temptation to drink.”
It’s enough to make one wonder who’s not thinking clearly. (Richard Mostyn)