Criminal lawyer David Boulding has some advice for people in Lillooet who find themselves scratching their heads and asking, “Why would he do that? What was he thinking?”
Boulding says police officers, teachers, business owners, citizens and, yes, other lawyers, should also ask themselves, “What is going on in that brain?” and consider the possibility that the person in question has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term describing a continuum of permanent birth defects caused by a mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It is a “spectrum” because some people are severely affected, while others only are mildly affected. Some will have reasoning and behavioural problems, while others will have learning disabilities.
Boulding told his listeners alcohol in the womb is a solvent and acts on the baby’s developing brain like paint stripper acts on layers of paint on furniture; it dissolves brain cells, bubbling them away. Those destroyed cells will never be replaced.
Because people with FASD are missing parts of their brain, Boulding says the only practical way to help them is to provide supervision or intervention by being an "external brain.
“As a community, we need to step in and be those missing brain cells,” Boulding advised. That can be as simple as a volunteer going shopping with someone, making sure a person goes to their appointments and store owners communicating with other store owners about repeat shoplifters. It could also mean calling the video store to let the employees know that an individual’s probation order says he must be home by 7 p.m. and asking those employees to tell that individual at 6:45 p.m. that it’s time to go home. .
He urged his audience to understand that when they’re dealing with someone with FASD, they are dealing with issues of “non-competence, not non-compliance.”
Boulding acknowledged that when people see reports of court cases, they often feel an individual “didn’t learn his lesson,” “got away with” committing a crime and was not adequately punished.
He said psychopaths’ crimes are well-planned and they can indeed “get away with it.”
But a person with FASD can be manipulated by criminals, is often socially isolated because his behaviour pushes people away and does not connect actions to consequences. He can become a repeat offender because of those factors.
Boulding gave an example of a child with FASD who learns at home “Don’t hit others.” He said that, to the child, that does not mean don’t hit in the backyard, the neighbour’s house, on the school bus, in the park, classroom, etc.
“This is not a developmental delay which will catch up,” said Boulding. “In fact, these problems become more obvious with increasing age and our demands that children become self-directed, self-motivated, self-controlled and self-remembered.”
Boulding visited Lillooet during the week of Oct. 7, giving a daylong seminar, participating in a evening panel discussion, visiting Lillooet Secondary School and speaking at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the topic of FASD, which he describes as a school, police, social, legal, medical, family, community and national problem.
He was invited to town by a working group of the Lillooet Community Partners Resource Group (LCPRG). The LCPRG includes representation from education, health, police and social service providers and local governments.
The daylong seminar was attended by 34 people and approximately 35 people attended the evening panel discussion, which also included Kristal Bodaly from the Assante Centre, an organization dedicated to helping people with FASD, and Chris Pincot from the Insight Centre in Kamloops. Pincot is the Lillooet worker for children with FASD.
The Chamber of Commerce luncheon was not well-attended by Chamber members, which Boulding addressed by saying, “What’s wrong with this picture? This is the problem.”
He continued, “Everybody in this community expects the judge who comes here three days a month to solve the problems. That judge has a simple decision to make – jail or no jail. And he’s here three days a month. You can’t put it on his shoulders.”
Boulding called FASD the “most confusing and perplexing problem the legal system has.” There are no solid numbers on FASD in prison populations, but estimates range from 30 to 80 per cent.
FASD is sometimes viewed as a problem of visible minority populations, but that’s inaccurate, according to Boulding.
“The research shows that the women who drink the most while pregnant - are you ready for this? – have four years of university, are white and earn 400 per cent above the poverty line,” he stated. “They drink two to three times as much as women of colour on welfare. It’s not an aboriginal problem. What do rich white people call their kids when they’ve got difficulties? They usually label them attention-deficit.”