If you’re curious about what’s like to live with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, have a chat with Katrina Griffin. She can explain how her early life began, when she was born at 24 weeks, spent six months in intensive care and 18 months on oxygen and how having FASD hurts her short-term memory and how she’s spent her life dealing with the condition.
Griffin, 23, can spend a day studying in school, then completely forget everything the next day. Or she can come to class in a fog, then a few days later have the whole lesson crystallize on the bus ride home from school.
Sometimes she struggles with verbal instruction, running into problems by trying to follow instructions literally.
Once her Grade 5 teacher told the class to put everything into their back packs. Griffin did, and put everything that was in her desk into her pack.
Another time her teacher told the class to “pick up the floor,” which she found confusing. “I take things literally.”
Dealing with large numbers, such as figuring out the dollars and cents when buying something, is also a challenge.
She also spends a lot of her time talking to doctors about what it’s like to cope, as a spokesperson for those who can’t do that.
“It’s my goal to create as much awareness as I can.”
Griffin provided the insights at a ceremony Tuesday in the Greg Moore Youth Centre marking Maple Ridge’s new business bylaw, which now requires all bars and restaurants serving booze to post warning signs about the dangers of drinking while pregnant.
“No Safe Time. No Safe Amount,” the signs will say.
“I’m here,” it will say written across a woman’s pregnant tummy.
The campaign is an attempt at reducing the number of kids born with the preventable condition, caused by a mother drinking while pregnant.
“FASD is surprisingly prevalent in Canada and around the world,” said Allison Pooley, program director with The Asante Centre in Maple Ridge.
The rate of occurrence is about nine births per thousand affected by FASD, although she said that’s a conservative number and the actual range could be between two and five per cent.
Many misconceptions about the condition still endure.
Some people still think that drinking in small amounts is less harmful to the baby either earlier or later in the pregnancy.
“There’s no safe time. There’s no safe amount,” said Pooley.
And alcohol, possibly because of its solubility in the human body, is the most dangerous to a baby, even more so than hard drugs.
People in all socio-economic groups are affected with often what is an invisible disability, she said. Many struggle daily with the condition that no one else would be able to detect.
Griffin, who graduated from high school despite a teacher saying she’d never do so, has almost completed her training in early childhood education. One of her goals is to see the frequency of FASD diminish to the point that it becomes an unknown condition.
She’s also like the City of Richmond to adopt a bylaw similar to Maple Ridge’s.
Asked what single thing she’d like to see to combat FASD, and Griffin thinks for a bit.
It would be a good idea to make it tougher laws on underage drinking, she says. Or make illegal for pregnant women to drink – just like it’s illegal to drink and drive.
“There is another life involved.”