The young Lakeville, Minnesota man who was beaten and burned, lost sight in one eye and is now bleeding internally will be physically scarred forever, not only by the prison tattoo his attackers burned into his arm but also by his experiential memories. And yet, Justin Hamilton, a gentle, trusting person afflicted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), never meant harm to anyone. In fact, Justin had befriended his attackers only to be beaten a second time by the very people who had already harmed him.
Public outcry rallied for Justin and his family and rightfully so. There should be public outrage for the 1 in 100 children born in the United States with FASD, a 100% preventable disability, caused by the ingestion of alcohol by a pregnant mother.
According to the National Association of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) website, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term for fetal alcohol syndrome and other diagnosis related to maternal alcohol use. If clinicians can identify alcohol-related effects early, intervention approaches can minimize the potential impact of these effects and provide better future outcomes. However, most children diagnosed with fetal alcohol-related problems are not identified before they reach school age, when they are referred for a learning disability or an attention deficit disorder. Without adequate supports and misunderstanding these children become adolescents and then adults who often fall prey to predators because their judgment of high-risk situations is often lacking.
There should be public awareness to build communities of safety. There should be public outreach to bring people of character into relationships of mentoring and friendship for vulnerable citizens.
Persons with FASD are often misunderstood and ridiculed. The headlines for Justin did not tell the stories of the many other young adults hurt or dead, in prison for the crimes of another or under state commitment. They did not raise awareness for the young man shot in the buttocks in grave humor or for another young man sitting in prison for a crime he never committed. They did not raise awareness for the young women who are gathered together on MySpace to model, perform exotic dances or work the street, women held hostage by predators who begin as 'friends'. The public did not hear about the young woman who was gang-raped because she wanted to be a part of a group; or another young adult refusing the initiation who now bears slashes on her stomach where she was sliced into the gang; or the young adult who was shot in the head and lost an eye. The list goes on and on with assaults quietly buried with increases the pain and confusion of the victims and silences future repercussions.
Do the statistics lie? Could this be real? Or do we continue to close our eyes to the horrors unless a family member is victimized?
Two recent novels of drama, intrigue and suspense introduce FASD to readers: Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain and The Whitest Wall by Jodee Kulp.
Diane Chamberlain, award-winning author of eighteen novels, introduced a fictional 15-year old FASD victim named Andy Lockwood in Before the Storm. In Diane's previous career as a social worker, she worked in a high-risk maternity unit where she learned firsthand of the permanent damage a pregnant woman's drinking can impose on her unborn child. Later, as a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in adolescents, she treated some of those children.
However, Diane did not set out to make Andy a victim of FASD. According to Diane, Andy made that decision for her. As Diane wrote the story, Andy's "voice" began to emerge, and she became aware of his simple, concrete thinking, his impulsivity, and his literal view of the world, and she knew he was a child with FASD.
Jodee Kulp, award-winning author of eight non-fiction books written to help families and professionals work, love and live with persons with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, is a family advocate who understands the tears of the parents and embraces the young people. She is an adoptive parent of a young adult with FASD and has invested herself in the issues of persons with this brain damage, taking time to understand and appreciate the beauty and innocence.
Her debut novel, The Whitest Wall, the first in The Bootleg Brothers Trilogy, implores society to understand without judging three characters within a community who have brain damage due to maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Everyone wonders why certain people behave in ways that appear strange or out of the norm. Since communication and miscommunication are issues for each of us, this theme is universal. The Whitest Wall is a worthy read, a trip into a novel world, written with entertainment quality as vivid as a screenplay with a multitude of metaphors for interpretation and meaning. Jodee has created a new third-person Catcher in the Rye, capturing the chaotic turmoil of culturally-muddled miscommunication of lost-boy Kevin, a 21-year-old going-on-ten jailed for murder, seemingly by his own matter-of-fact confession. This tantalizing tale should engage youthful readers and provoke discussion among those of high-school age and older. Caulfield, move over, there is much more to tell!
Chamberlain and Kulp encourage us with their stories in telling us how vital it is to commit to building better baby brains for the future by abstaining from alcohol throughout pregnancy and how vital it is to understand this disability affecting over 40,000 newborns each year. They show us the importance of building compassion and healthy sustainable supports for a lifetime. Fetal alcohol brain damage does not go away. No one outgrows it.
Justin's family has set up a trust to aid in his recovery and defray costs of his care. Donations made be made to Wells Fargo Bank for the benefit of Justin Charles Hamilton, 16817 Duluth Avenue SE, Prior Lake, MN 55372.