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Monte Vista students teach FASD lessons

Posted: Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Advocates: Front, from left: senior Andrew Carroll, senior Sammi Shaw, Sophomore Reeka Crites and senior Jeremiah Garcia. Back row: Sophomore Christopher Gunsaulis, senior Daniel Armstrong and senior Nathan Garcia. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

MONTE VISTA — Seven students can’t stand aside and watch something continue to hurt innocent babies, especially when it is 100 percent preventable.

For several months, the young men and women of the Byron Syring DELTA Center, part of the Monte Vista School District, have been touring the Valley to do what they can to prevent mothers from drinking alcohol when with child. They have shared the tragic story of children fallen victim to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) with their peers, college students, health professionals and the community at large with hope the constant sad endings will make an impression and stop babies from being born with a multitude of life lasting birth defects.

“We want people to know that you don’t have to have a kid like that,” said Byron Syring DELTA Center sophomore Reeka Crites, who intends to continue the advocacy work next year. “The only way you can get it is by drinking while you are pregnant. The only reason we wanted to it is so not one child’s life is affected or messed up. It is a life sentence.”

FASD are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The conditions include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning, and often a combination of both. Diagnoses related to FASD include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

“Some FASD children have anger problems and they don’t know cause and effect,” said Byron Syring DELTA Center senior and FASD Advocate Organizational Specialist Sammi Shaw. “Some children don’t understand that when you hit someone, it hurts them, the other person. You can teach them something one day and they won’t know anything about it the next day.”

Shaw works with elementary age students in the area and, after attending the Rio Grande Prevention Partners FASD youth training with her classmates this spring, said she could recognize signs of FASD in her community.

“Some of the kids that I work with seem like they might have it,” Shaw said. “If you know what they have, it makes it easier to work with them. It is easier to understand what they are capable of doing.”

Annually, the United States sees an estimated 40,000 babies born with FASD, according to SAMHSA. The data shows approximately nine per 1,000 births, but some argue that due to misdiagnosis or underreporting the number is actually 50 per 1,000, and that is creating an unnecessary fiscal burden. A child identified with an FASD can incur health costs nine times higher than for children without an FASD. Studies estimate the lifetime cost of caring for a person with the disorders to be at least $2 million, and the overall annual cost of FASD to the U.S. healthcare system more than $6 billion.

To help others understand FASD, the Byron Syring DELTA Center students acted out skits, bringing their audiences into the activity through visuals and a pre and post presentation test. The test results showed their voices were being heard, knowing that people were now understanding terms like the “pregnancy pause,” which means zero alcohol intake while the baby is in uterus.

“The people were really involved,” said Crites, especially about their Trinidad State Junior College presentation. “They would ask questions and make comments about things that they thought. They were involved instead of just looking at us.”

One skit the students created explained the difference in consumption levels between a mother and her baby. Shaw played an expecting mother ordering a number of drinks at a bar while Byron Syring DELTA Center senior and FSAD Advocate President Andrew Carroll held stacked cups to demonstrate that one drink for mom equals three for her baby. Byron Syring DELTA Center sophomore Christopher Gunsaulis taped a sign on Carroll telling the harmful effects of each alcohol beverage, which added up as quickly as the cups in Carroll’s hands.

“They caught on fire,” said FSAD Advocate sponsor and teacher Cammie Wilson, who found out about the FSAD youth training after talking with a colleague who is a mother to an adopted FSAD child. “They have been able to teach people. It’s not about judging drinking or being pregnant. The lesson is not drinking while you are pregnant.”

For Byron Syring DELTA Center senior Jeremiah Garcia, learning about FASD made him learn more about his reality, which is his 3-year-old son.

“My son at home that means everything to me,” Garcia said. “Before we went to the training, I knew alcohol could hurt your baby, but I really didn’t know what it could do. I am happy that I am more educated.”

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