Shame Day: How I Met Your Mother and FASD

I’ve fallen in love with How I Met Your Mother. I chose my timing wisely, waiting until the very last season began to air before I let myself become sucked in. As a member of the generation of binge or marathon watchers (depending on what kind of spin you want to give to it) I just can’t handle waiting each week for a new episode. This way the control is in my hands.

There is just so many lovable characters on the show. Even the unrealistically lucky womanizer Barney makes me laugh. Sometimes while ticking me off at the same time.

By lucky, I mean that he’s lucky he isn’t dead yet, not that he is lucky because of the number of women he has “banged.” Come on bro, quality over quantity, eh?

But my favourite character in the show is definitely Lily.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to be a ginger or maybe it’s because I tend to relate more to her character, but I find her hilarious.

Not that I have ever done this or anything.

So that’s why I was so disappointed when I saw the episode in season 7 called “The Stinson Missile Crisis”. I should probably give you a spoiler warning at this point, but honestly, if you have managed to be slower than me in discovering a TV show then I give you mad props.

Anyways, according to the Wikipedia summary: “Ted becomes concerned that Lily is consuming wine and Cheetos while pregnant, especially after learning that her doctor allows Lily to have ‘just a little bit’ of everything that Lily asks for.”

See, one thing I haven’t told you guys about (at least not here on the blog) is that before I went back to university I had received my Special Education Assistant certification at a local college and worked for several years as an aide for kids with Special Needs. My mom is also a Special Needs Teacher, so I was actually introduced to a lot of disorders while I was still young. One of the disorders that came up a lot was FASD.

FASD is pretty well known, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the acronym stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal “FASD is the result of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy… Affected people exhibit a wide range of expression, from severe growth restriction, intellectual disability, birth defects and characteristic dysmorphic facial features to normal growth, facial features and intellectual abilities, but with lifelong deficits in several domains of brain function.”


Photo courtesy of Sterling Clarren, MD.

The photograph above shows how severely alcohol can affect the fetal brain. For a lot of individuals with FASD, however, the affects are much less severe than the picture above and as a result their needs are much less noticeable. While there are some distinguishing facial features that can be associated with FASD, if you aren’t familiar with them are you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. Not to mention that these distinguishing facial features are not always present in individuals with FASD.

The low rate of diagnosis can also be attributed to the social stigma of having a child with FASD. For many families it is impossible to get a diagnosis (and school funding) without admitting that the mother drank during pregnancy.

There are many struggles for individuals with FASD. As children, many have a particularly hard time with concentration in school. One blogger with FASD explains that school was always “a complete nightmare for my teacher’s and myself.” These kids are often dismissed as “rebellious” or “disobedient” and end up slipping through the cracks of the education system.

According to the Howard Johnson fact sheet on FASD part of the reason these kids are perceived as being “bad” is because one of the major affects of FASD is a “misunderstanding of cause and effect.” Another way this can be understood is that many individuals with FASD struggle to understand consequences. Sometimes this can lead to trouble in budgeting money and even problems with kleptomania. The Howard Johnson Society also argues that up to 55% of individuals struggling with FASD end up incarcerated later in life.

Wait, just take a minute to process that.

For the moment I’m not going to even get into a critique of the “criminal justice” system that throws individuals with special needs into prison just to make the rest of us feel safer at night. Instead, I want you to think about how hard it must be to live with FASD. How the people who struggle through a world that doesn’t always make sense to them deserve our respect for at least trying to figure it all out.

Then take a minute to remember that half of these kids, as they struggle to differentiate between right and wrong, are getting thrown in jail because someone did not tell their mother it wasn’t okay to have “just a little bit” while she was pregnant. All too often with FASD the mother honestly just didn’t know.

So that’s why I was (quite reasonably) angry when How I Met Your Mother  allowed Lily to consume alcohol during her pregnancy. I’m not saying it’s the job of media to educate people, but media does reflect society and our view on social issues. While over here in North America we’re still cracking jokes about pregnant women getting drunk, in Europe they’ve started to realized how big the problem with FASD can be and are putting warning labels on alcohol as of 2014.

Postcard from the European FASD Awareness campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a glass of wine before bed, or a beer with my friends after class, but even I’ve had to start rethinking my alcohol consumption because, well, my mom keeps on praying that I will get knocked up (you really need to stop that, mom). As much as it sucks to have to be more conscious about when it’s okay to drink (i.e. wine week) Health Canada insists that if you are at risk of pregnancy “No amount or type of alcohol is considered safe.”

While there have been some individuals who have learned how to overcome the challenges having FASD presents, there are many more who continue to slip through the cracks and end up in prison instead. The entire system is flawed, granted, but think of this as one small and important way to ensure that your kids get the best possible chance in life. Remember, “just a little bit” isn’t okay, even if Lily’s doctor said so.

Now, let me leave you with a video that helps me crave alcohol a little less.


5 responses to “Shame Day: How I Met Your Mother and FASD

  1. This show is pretty inaccurate in its portrayal of alcohol consumption all around. The latest (and last) season takes place over something like 36 hours in total, and involves a running joke where Lilly is constantly served alcohol by a bartender (“Thank you, Linus”). Several hours and dozens of drinks later, she is as lucid as the plot requires her to be.

    That info on FASD was interesting. As was the Cracked video.

  2. I wonder if the show will have to apologize later. I don’t know why they chose to allow Lily’s character to drink. I mean, it seems purposeful. I really valued the info on FASD and your connection to the criminal justice system…which in light of your argument suggests it can be a very unjust system. Which is different than saying it’s a flawed system.

    • Orion I saw that one the other day too. And I agree, they definitely enjoy to push the line on the whole issue of Alcohol abuse.
      And Milhouse, it is really surprising that there wasn’t any sort of backlash to that episode or need to apologize. I’m actually hoping to do a shame day on our criminal justice system pretty soon too. So hopefully you will give that one a read too and tell me what you think.

  3. Pingback: Shame Day: Our (In)justice System | Culture War Reporters

  4. Pingback: Will Blogging Now Come Back to Haunt me Later? | Culture War Reporters

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