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Teen with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Becomes Advocate

After my infant and toddler years in Mt. Orab, Ohio, I grew up reading the Georgetown (Oh.) News Democrat. This week, I feature a person from Mt. Orab that reads this column in the News Democrat. Life can be one big circle, can't it?

In a telephone interview, Kelly McKinney said, "I had our home qualified both as a foster and adoptive home before picking Kiah up from the hospital when she was a day old. I knew I wanted to adopt a baby and it took a year for us to get her adopted."

Everything went well until Kelly began noticing Kiah falling behind on all her developmental milestones, including crawling, walking, and talking. Doctors figured it out when Kiah was nine. "When I first heard the diagnosis (of fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS), I was pretty devastated," said Kelly. "Learning the diagnosis did give us a reason why (she had fallen behind in her milestones). But the diagnosis was so permanent."

Kelly homeschooled her adopted daughter because "Kiah wouldn't have been able to function" in public school and likely would have been bullied or teased. Now age 14, Kiah can do only second-grade math. She reads very well, but her comprehension rate due to FAS remains at second-grade level, too.

Kelly said, "Kiah is very trusting. It would be easy for a stranger take her money or come into her home. Kiah wouldn't think twice about it. She thinks everyone is her friend. She has no concept of money right now. And as for her being a young woman, I have other concerns for her."

Kelly said Kiah will always need an "external" brain, someone to pay her bills, and she probably won't be able to drive or hold a full-time job.

With mom's endorsement, Kiah has become an advocate for her own cause. Kelly then put Kiah on the telephone with me, and Kiah said, "I just want to get the word out to women not to drink alcohol when pregnant. I've gotten the word out here at the library and Kroger's (a grocery store). I talk to people in the aisles. I say I have FAS and they ask me what that is. I say that's when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol and it (permanently) affects the baby's brain. I say my birth mother drank alcohol while she was pregnant with me."


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Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at

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