NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, January 20, 2016, 4:35 PM
Karli Schrider lives at home with her mom and her stepdad. Her bedroom is decorated with dolls and purses, and she loves to color in her Hello Kitty book.
All the kinds of things a little girl loves — except Karli isn’t a little girl anymore — she’s a 43-year-old woman, who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.
Karli is the developmental age of a first-grader and will never be able to live independently from her mother.
Karli’s mother, Kathy Mitchell, had a tumultuous childhood growing up in Rockville, Maryland.
At 16, when she fell pregnant with her second child, she had already developed an addiction to alcohol. Soon, she would be addicted to heroin, too, the Washington Post reported.
Kathy did not realize her daughter was suffering from such a mentally debilitating condition until her daughter was a teenager.
After seeing Karli struggle to keep up in high school — and unable to tell the time, or ride a bike — Kathy brought her teenage daughter to Georgetown University Hospital.
Here, doctors would examine her and determine the cause of her learning impairments.
Karli was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome in 1989.
Fetal alcohol spectrum affects approximately 2 to 5 percent of children in the U.S. The disorder ranges from mild to severe. In cases like Karli’s, effects can include intellectual disabilities; emotional, behavioral, and neurological issues; vision, speech and language problems; and sometimes it can affect the growth of facial features.
Karli Schrider suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and has the developmental age of a first-grader.
When Karli displayed difficulty sitting upright in a doctor’s office, Kathy remembers the doc putting it down to chronic ear infections.
The little girl had also displayed signs of motor and speech difficulties growing up. There was a point when doctors believed she had cerebral palsy — the symptoms of which resemble FASD — but they soon moved on from this notion.
At this time, FASD wasn’t typically on doctor’s horizons. Many had not heard of the condition and weren’t even considering it during the diagnosis process.
It was the year Karli was born, 1973, fetal alcohol syndrome was discovered by researchers at the University of Washington Medical School.
At a time in her life when most women are focusing on their careers or raising a family — Karli stays frozen in time.
“She’s a forever innocent child,” Kathy told the Post.
“But not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself, ‘What if? What if alcohol hadn’t been a part of my life?’?”
Just like a child, Karli is easily manipulated and cannot predict dangerous behaviors.
“I thought I would die from the grief and guilt,” Kathy told the Post of when she first learned of the consequences of her actions.
“It was one of the worst days of my life, and at that moment I knew that I had to do what I could to prevent this from happening to another child,” she said.
Kathy Mitchell is now the vice president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
After battling alcohol and heroin addiction for all of her adult life, and part of her childhood, Kathy lost her fourth and fifth child and had a psychological break.
“I ended up being carted off by the police to a mental institution in Sykesville, where doctors decided that I was an addict, not insane, and I was sent off to an inpatient treatment center to detox,” Kathy told the Post.
After spending 30 days at a regimen at an inpatient facility and 10 months staying in a therapeutic community, Kathy earned her GED and decided to get serious.
The young mom moved back in with her parents and got a job aiding a counselor at Montgomery General Hospital’s detox center. Soon after, she became a fully certified addiction counselor.
Kathy, at 61-years-old, is now vice president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — a nonprofit that works to increase awareness and educate people of the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy.
As for Karli, she stays with an aide during the daytime while her parents work. She keeps busy with different activities — such as Zumba and aerobics classes — and works one afternoon a week as a stock clerk.
“The guilt and remorse are painful, but it’s even worse to think of what Karli might have been — a nurse, like she wanted (to) be when she was 10, or a wife or mother? She won’t have any of it now, because I drank during my pregnancies,” Kathy told the Post.
“I would never knowingly harm my child, but what I didn’t know ended up robbing her of so much.”