Disordered: how we’re failing Kiwis with FASD

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Maureen drank “a couple of bottles of vodka a day” while pregnant with Thomas. It gave him brain damage. His disability meant he made poor decisions and as a result, spent most of his adulthood in jail.

Thomas is one of an estimated 3,000 New Zealand babies born every year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. His story is told in Stuff Circuit’s latest documentary Disordered – which explores Aotearoa’s shameful incidence of FASD. 

It gives a voice to those who are struggling with the lifelong impact of prenatal alcohol exposure, and questions why most are unable to access much-needed support for their disability. 

While the Ministry of Health acknowledges fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as a disability, New Zealand is one of the few developed countries that has never measured the national prevalence. Most New Zealand babies with FASD will grow up without the diagnosis and support they need to live a good life. 

“Many who are born with this condition end up unemployed, homeless, drifting or on the streets, and as a result, they commit crimes,” says reporter Paula Penfold. “They make the wrong choices and have a poor concept of how their actions impact others.”

“The criminal justice system is spending millions per year incarcerating people with FASD, yet they’re not eligible for support. As a society, we are letting them down.”

“I never chose this lifestyle, it was given to me,” says Thomas. “I’ve just spent pretty much my life in jail, no matter what I do, what I try.”

Sadly, Thomas will never see the documentary. He passed away before it was complete. A court decision said more than $2 million was spent on prosecuting and imprisoning Thomas in his 42 years of life, and that if just a quarter of that had instead been spent on meeting his disability needs, the outcome would have been better for society, for him, and for his family — who miss him very much. 

Disordered is made with support from NZ On Air and is out from Monday 7 March. Watch it at www.stuff.co.nz/disordered.

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