Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD is the leading cause of learning disabilities in the United States (to be honest I think that if other countries looked they would find the same). Yet this is not a condition recognized on any behavior or learning plan unless it is put under “other health impaired”. It is also not recognized at all when someone is being charged with a crime. Now it can be introduced in the sentencing phase to show mitigating circumstances but by then the person is already found guilty. By then a process is started that can be so overwhelming to the person who has FASD and this persons family that it is hard to find their way through the system. I know that is what has happened with us.
My son made a terrible mistake. He wanted to be able to be on his own. He wanted to be able to be “normal” according to what he was saying. So he ran away from home. He fell in with the wrong people and he helped them steal cars. He got caught and before he ever told us what was going on he pled guilty. Then he did the same thing on his charges from another county. He was being told that he had to plead guilty in order to avoid being charged as a habitual criminal. All by making mistakes within a month long period away from the supervision that he needed. The problem is that even though we as his family and others who understand FAS know that he needed 24/7 supervision we cannot force him to accept it now that he is over the age of majority. So now here he is at 19 and he has served over 6 months of his sentence. He is doing very well in the system as it is very structured. He is allowed to petition for a work release program. No one ever asked us our opinion on this and so he is transferred to this program where there is almost no supervision. Within 24 hours of his transfer he walks away from this center. He is still out there. We do not know if he is okay or not as no one we know has seen him. This is a nightmare for his family and friends who are worried about him.
The fact is that the system just is not set up to teach anyone who has FASD anything. The people with FASD who end up in the system become trapped there as they keep making mistakes that will keep them on the merry go round that is the legal system. Once they become entrenched there they do not know how to get out of it as they cannot learn from cause and effect and lack the discernment to figure out exactly why they keep getting in trouble in the first place. The cost to society is astronomical both financially and really emotionally. I see know way out of this if we do not start looking at other ways of dealing with offenders who have FASD. If we could look at supervised life skill programs where they could learn to be ready for the outside world and had the supervision that was needed for them to succeed. It is going to take a large voice out there to get the attention to this issue that is needed. So I am challenging everyone to speak out about FASD and help people see that we could clear the court dockets of a huge issue if we could find alternate ways of dealing with FASD offenders.