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Evergreen House Conference: Researcher/author offers strategies for serving prenatal alcohol-exposed adolescents

Jody Allen Crowe indicated the difference between a normal 6-week-old baby's brain and a brain of a 6-week-old damaged by prenatal alcohol exposure. Crowe was one of the presenters Friday at the 2010 Evergreen House Annual Conference. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Lee Harvey Oswald fatally shot President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Jeffrey Weise killed eight people in the Red Lake High School shooting in 2005. They had a major disability in common.

Jody Allen Crowe, a presenter Friday at the 2010 Evergreen House Annual Conference, researched a series of school shooters. From family interviews, he said he confirmed that Weise was among 88 percent of school shooters afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum disorder.

Crowe quoted Joann Weise, Jeffrey's mother, as saying: "My drinking screwed up my son's brain, didn't it? I don't want another mother to go through what I went through."

In the case of Oswald, Crowe said, the facial characteristics - abnormal eyes and a lack of upper lip and philtrum (the groove running from nose to mouth) - and his behaviors point to the same diagnosis.

However, Crowe said, "A brain-damaged kid can look like any other kid."

"This is the best speaker I ever heard," said Tim Warme, one of the more than 200 professionals who attended the two-day conference. "He's actually done the research."

Warme, a chemical assessment professional for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said he often interviews pregnant women.

"It's during that first eight weeks, when they might not know they are pregnant, they are exposing their fetus to alcohol," he said.

Crowe, the author of "The Fatal Link," about the FAS spectrum disorders, said the condition is prevalent throughout society, and the costs are staggering.

"It doesn't take much alcohol to have damage at a very early stage of pregnancy," Crowe said.

Crowe wears a tie tack made from a dime. He asked the attendees to look at the impression of Franklin Roosevelt's ear on the coin. He said that is the size of the fetus when it begins to share its mother's blood supply, as well as the alcohol she has drunk.

He said 70 percent of women ages 22-29 have unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Crowe said his research showed that the highest risk group for causing prenatal exposure to alcohol is professional single women older than 30; the next-highest risk is among women working in male-dominated, low-paying jobs; the third-highest risk is among teenagers in foster homes; and the fourth-highest risk is among American Indians .

As a result of his research, Crowe has initiated the educational organization Healthy Brains for Children. His presentation Friday was titled "America's Greatest Brain Drain: Effective Approaches to Serving Prenatal Alcohol-Exposed Adolescents.

Crowe shared strategies he developed during his 18 years as a teacher and school administrator dealing with FAS spectrum youngsters:

- Understand that the behaviors are caused by brain damage, not willful disobedience.

- Maintain structure.

- Limit sensory environment.

- Use non-shaming, non-blaming rhetoric.

- Give directions one at a time rather than in a series.

- Use computer-assisted instruction.

Crowe said the first question people ask about those diagnosed with lung cancer is whether they smoked.

If a child displays any of the behaviors association was FAS spectrum, Crowe said, "I submit the first question should be 'Was that young person prenatally exposed to alcohol?'"