Children are “The nation's most precious resource . . .”
“Most precious resource . . . no child left behind.” It sounds so good. But . . . as long as alcohol drinking is a national pastime, lots of children will be left behind.
In the US, two million children in any given year are classified as learning disabled;1 35 % of adolescents have been diagnosed with one or more chronic health problems.2
How many of them suffer because of alcohol? How many more are undiagnosed? A new name for the growing number of kids who are “different” is Quirky. 3
Alcohol affects the reproductive organs of men as well as women. That starts the damage—with possible ADHD, hormone or DNA problems. Next, alcohol in the womb hits the totally defenseless developing baby. We"ve said it before and we say it again— Alcohol is a solvent—it dissolves brain cells and more—it alters the wiring or architecture of the brain. Permanently. And it does more . . .
Alcohol causes a huge range of physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities in children. On Apr. 15, 2004, the term, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, an umbrella name for alcohol damage, became official. (FASD is not a clinical diagnosis.)
A true story: Case study in grade 4
Let’s call him Bradley. Bradley’s health history shows that he lives with his cousin and her son. His mother reportedly drank regularly while pregnant with Bradley.
Bradley repeated grade 1. Now he’s eleven years old and in grade 4. He is in the regular classroom. His vision is poor, his speech—well, he has a speech and language teacher and he gets other help. That might not be too bad for the teacher. But . . .
Bradley in the classroom makes teaching a struggle
Bradley talks excessively and makes inappropriate noises in class. He can’t seem to sit still if he has nothing to do—but he can’t remain concentrated on classwork either. He has difficulty completing tasks. He is disorganized. He sucks his thumb. He draws instead of working.
Bradley doesn’t have friends. The teacher notices that he often seems anxious and worried that others are talking about him.
The teacher has asked other students to tutor Bradley. He has preferential seating, and a homework assignment sheet made especially for him. He gets help with organizational skills. The teacher uses physical cues like saying his name to get his attention and keep him focused. She deliberately ignores the noises Bradley makes and has told the class to do this also. She sends him to the guidance counselor for help and he gets psychological evaluations.
The effort to help Bradley
A school psychologist, in one special 15 minute observation, says Bradley is on-task 70% of the time compared to 96% for another student being watched. He spends time looking around, humming, whistling and rummaging in his desk.
Other evaluations say Bradley acts impulsively, does not attend to details, is restless and fidgety. He has some speech problems, but he can be understood. He laughs at the wrong times and sucks his thumb. In a general intelligence test, his full scale IQ comes out at 64—Educable Mentally Disabled (mentally deficient but he can be educated).
Bradley has a test to measure visual-motor ability. (Do his eyes work with his muscles?) In the test he has to see geometric forms and copy them. He shows the ability of a 6 year old.
He has a drawing test to see if his artwork shows emotional problems. Nothing important is found. He is evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder. Results show that at home and school he is hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive.
Last, Bradley takes an achievement test. Surprisingly he comes out pretty well on some subjects—above grade level on calculation and at early 4th grade level on letter-word identification, passage comprehension, broad reading score, broad math score.
After all the testing what does the school psychologist say?
The psychologist says all the results have to be interpreted with caution since Bradley had behavior problems during testing. Bradley’s IQ shows educable mentally disabled. His oral abilities are much better than his written abilities, so he probably functions in the low average range. But his achievement test came out higher than expected. He seems to have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
So now what?
It is recommended that Bradley have a medical evaluation to verify if he has ADHD or other neurological disorders since his health record shows his mother drank alcohol.
The teacher is told to continue her management techniques even if Bradley is given medication to help control his behavior. She can also see to it that Bradley has shorter assignments, and that he gets extra time to do his work. She should let him hand out papers, run errands, etc. He could be given a place outside his desk to keep his work materials, and he could have a study carrel or quiet corner to work in. The teacher should continue to ask other students to help him and to see that he finishes his work. She should repeat directions frequently and check to see that he understands.
If the medical doctor confirms that Bradley has ADHD, Bradley may be placed in a special program for Other Health Impaired.
Meanwhile, back in the classroom
Most teachers are very conscientious. The education staff has recommended that Bradley get even more teacher attention than he has been receiving. They say there is some hope for medication for the ADHD. The teacher knows the IQ is low, but the achievement test says some good things. Maybe with extra help Bradley can be brought up to grade level.
The tragic truth about Bradley
Bradley’s actions show clearly the 3 main symptoms of prenatal alcohol damage: poor impulse control, immature or inappropriate behavior and poor judgment. He doesn’t have the facial features of full fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS),4 but he has the brain damage and maybe other physical problems.
Bradley’s behavior problems are not the type school psychologists ordinarily train to work with. Their hope is that more careful supervision will modify his behavior. But Bradley’s problems are a result of permanent, unchanging damage to the frontal lobes of the brain. His problems are out of his control.
Impulsive is not a strong enough word for alcohol damaged people. They think and do. Bradley’s brain doesn’t send him a caution warning. He cannot look ahead to realize the consequences of his behavior.
His memory is short and spotty. He may seem to learn, but the next day or hour it is gone.
The achievement test Bradley took seemed to show he was doing better than what the teacher saw him doing in the classroom in math and reading. This gave the school staff hope. Actually, because of his brain damage, Bradley can sometimes seem to know things but when it comes to using the information, he is unable to do it.
The teacher has been told to repeat instructions often and to check to see that he understands. He can’t hear more than one direction at a time.
Often his brain will not understand any instructions he has been given but he will be able to repeat what he has heard—say the words without understanding anything.
The teacher asks other students to help him. They may show him what to write down and get him to do it. But by 4th grade children are reasoning about ideas. Bradley’s brain does not work well with the abstract or comprehending ideas.
The Tragedy . . .
With all Bradley’s tests, the truth about his condition remains hidden. He has neurological, not psychological, problems.
Bradley will be sent to a medical doctor—but very few doctors diagnose alcohol damage.
The teacher and the school staff will keep struggling to find the right techniques to help Bradley. He would respond if he could. He doesn’t want to fail. But his brain damage is not curable.
Children like Bradley feel afraid all the time.
Tragedy in grade 4 has a cause—alcohol. Alcohol destroys. It promotes failure. Bradley is failing, the teacher is failing, the class is suffering, and the whole school system can be condemned for “a child left behind.”
God has a word to say
Alcohol’s effect on the brain is an area of intense research today. New technology reveals just how alcohol hurts brain cells.
God has always known this. He says no to alcohol drinking. “Wine (alcoholic wine) is a mocker.” He calls alcohol a poison. He pronounces a curse, a woe, on anyone who puts the bottle to someone else’s lips. He also says that whoever offends one of “these little ones who believe in Me” would be better off to have a millstone tied around his neck and be drowned.5 God is not overlooking the magnitude of this tragedy.
Finding out the truth
IQ, achievement, and psychological tests don’t tell much about FAS. Bradley needs a discrepancy test to measure the gap between what he reads and the way he acts. One good test is the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale, VABS. FAS/FAE children come out with much lower scores on the Vineland than on an IQ test.6
Facing the issue
Time is of the essence when it comes to helping kids like Bradley. Early diagnosis of FAS/FAE and intensive intervention can help a child up to age 10 or 12. During this time the brain is still developing neural pathways, and alternate pathways may be built to “work around” damaged areas of the brain.7
The whole educational staff—including those who hire and fire—needs to be specially trained to recognize and manage alcohol brain damage.8 And teachers must be released from the guilt trip they feel at seeing an unsuccessful student.
Six out of ten American adults are drinking. A national survey said that more than half of women, ages 15 to 44, drank while pregnant.9
And “Quirky” is a new category for kids!
Is there no national outrage against alcohol? No outcry to stop the drinking? A top news story in the US should be alcohol’s role in ruining children’s lives and sabotaging schools.
1Digest of Ed Statistics, 2000
2US DHHS Nat’l Health Interview Survey, 1998
3Newsweek, May 3, 04, p. 51
4The FAS face—small eyes, a thin upper lip, a flat philtrum etc., comes from mom’s drinking between the 19th and 21st day of pregnancy.
5Prov. 20:1, Deut. 32:33, Hab. 2:15, Matt. 18:6
8Dr. S. Doctor, FAS Seminar, 2003
9US Dept of Health & Human Services, SAMHSA 1998 Sept, Journal: Bradley age 14