FASD in the international spotlight

South Alberta FASD Network is sharing its red symbol in support of International Awareness Day of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

September 1 marked the start of FASD Awareness Month and Canada FASD Research Network executive director Audrey McFarlane expressed her excitement Thursday in spreading awareness for FASD.

“FASD is a Canada-wide concern, so we’re excited to see participation in this event from landmarks all across the country. We hope this movement can shine the light on this disorder that is often ignored and overlooked in Canada,” said McFarlane.

On Saturday, Lethbridge City Hall will be lit up in red lights as part of the national campaign to spread FASD awareness. Co-coordinator/prevention conversation facilitator Debbie Deak noted the support the South Alberta FASD Network has provided.

“The South Alberta FASD Network provides supports and services, and assessment and diagnostic services for individuals impacted by FASD. Creating awareness about the prevention of prenatal alcohol exposure is of paramount importance.

One prevented case of FASD saves the Government of Alberta $800,000. Having empathetic, non-judgmental conversations with women of childbearing age and their partners is a proven strategy to positively impact alcohol-free pregnancies,” said Deak.

The theme for this year’s FASD Awareness Month is “Uniting Our Strengths: Finding Solutions Together.”

Alex Noad, a current student at Lethbridge College, voiced her experience having FASD.

“I really struggle managing my time, I really struggle focusing, and I really struggle with reading social cues. And so because of that, I've had to work a lot harder. And a lot of the times, social interactions are much harder for me, and building those friendships, because I don't notice social cues as much or I'll do things that annoy the other person,” said Noad.

Landmarks and monuments within Alberta will be lit up in red throughout September as part of the International FASD Awareness Day. Deak expressed the importance of those with FASD having supports and understanding.

“We know from experience that no two individuals are affected the same. It is a very unique disability. There are so many variables that factor into a person's diagnosis. We know that the people who thrive, the people who do the best, are those who have a network of support around them, be that family, close friends, people who care deeply about them, and will help them along their life's journey. Understanding their strengths as well as the limitations.”

The colour red became the FASD symbol after RJ Formanek, an advocate with FASD, wore red shoes to his talks on the international stage about FASD. It was there the Red Shoes Rock movement was begun. Noad noted the impact and importance of awareness’s for the community to have.

“I think it's really good that we're bringing awareness because I feel like people only think that alcoholics or children of alcoholics have this disorder when, in reality, you only need to drink a little bit. It does not matter the amount of alcohol that in during pregnancy that can cause FASD. And it's really important that people know the effects of alcohol.”

South Alberta FASD Network will be participating in the upcoming Word On the Street Festival hosted by Lethbridge Public Library on Sept. 23, in hopes of spreading the word. Noad said awareness in schools is important not only for supports but also to prevent it.

“I think schools, colleges if there's more awareness around it, it will not only help prevent it, but it will also help people feel included and have those supports needed to. For those children and adults who are struggling to get the help that they need.”

FASD, being a lifelong disability, is one of Canada’s leading neurodevelopmental disabilities impacting more than autism, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome combined and is often overlooked in communities.

Deak voiced the significance for children and adults to be assessed who have been exposed to alcohol as a fetus.

“An individual, whether it's a child or an adult, believes they may have been prenatally exposed to alcohol. First of all, it's really important to be assessed and diagnosed. And once that process has been completed, that person, whether it's a child or an adult, are going to understand their strengths, the things they're really good at, and also the areas that they're going to need some help or some support in.”

According to the Homeless Hub - the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, globally FASD “s known to have a greater effect on populations with poorer social determinants of health, one of which includes people experiencing homelessness. Many people experiencing homelessness struggle with mental illness and substance use disorders. In fact in the United States, studies suggest that 30 per cent of homeless population develop substance dependencies as a coping mechanism to deal with their lack of stable housing,” says its website.

The Hub says according to one study many people who are homeless self-report a diagnosis.

“It is also possible that there are more people experiencing homelessness who have not been formally diagnosed with FASD as it often goes undetected. In addition, studies suggest that women experiencing homelessness tend to be more likely to have children with FASD, increasing the number of individuals experiencing homelessness with FASD,” says the site.

In addition, the site says that as many as 60 per cent of people with FASD will have involvement at some time with the justice system as either a victim or offender.

“This may be because many individuals with FASD experience difficulties obtaining permanent residency or adequate supports to address the challenges that they face. Another challenge for individuals born with FASD is that they develop an “increased sensitivity and vulnerability to life stress”, and as a result they are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues and substance use disorders. Research suggests approximately 90 per cent of individuals with FASD struggle with mental health issues,” says the Homeless Hub.

, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald