SANTA ANA — It started with the story of TJ.
TJ was a 17-year-old boy on death row in Florida for a rape and murder conviction.
But he was also a boy whose mother may have drank during his pregnancy, leaving him with impulsive behavior, and an inability to learn from mistakes or plan for the future, according to Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender William Edwards.
Edwards shared TJ's story with members of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County (CASA) at the organization's East 17th Street headquarters Wednesday. He was there educate them in identifying children who may be misdiagnosed or over-diagnosed for behavioral problems that actually stem from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Among the physical characteristics of FASD-affected people are a smoothing out of the ridges under the nose and a thin upper lip, especially if a mother drank in the early stages of pregnancy, Edwards said. But physical red flags can be absent if a mother drank late in pregnancy, which can leave degradation in the corpus callosum — the link between the right and left sides of the brain.
TJ, like many affected by FASD who didn't receive treatment, attempted suicide several times, and was eventually successful.
Doug Scherbarth, a Newport Beach resident, suspects the 13-year-old boy from CASA for whom he advocates may be a FASD child.With his suspicions further confirmed after Wednesday's meeting, he said he was directed to resources to get a diagnosis for the boy and get him into the right treatment program.
"You always hear mothers shouldn't drink during pregnancy, but I never knew all the ramifications of it," he said.
FASD symptoms that can sometimes act as red flags include an inability to measure, do a load of laundry, read street signs or count change.
"You guys got to make it happen," Edwards told the crowd. "Don't take no for an answer."
Symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD):
•Short palpebral fissures (eyelid openings)
•Smooth philtrum (the channel under the nose)
•Thin upper lip
•Lives only in the present
•Doesn't understand "right and wrong"
•Would rather be "bad" than "stupid"