Unlike many diseases and disorders, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is entirely preventable, and various local resources are available to help families and childrenaffected.
But despite September being a special month in B.C. devoted to FASD prevention and awareness, surprisingly few people know what the diseases are or how to relate to children who have it.
“There’s such a stigma attached to FASD that generally, kids are in adoptive care or foster care,” said Angela Reay of Axis Family Resources, one of the groups that has been taking part in the month’s awareness campaigns.
“I don’t know if there are more services or if services are being accessed more now. We live in the North and services are tough to get.”
FASD refers to a range of diseases that are related to a mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. While doctors are in debate about how much alcohol pregnant women can drink safely, many government health agencies are firm that no alcohol is “safe” for would-be mothers, and that FASD can be all but prevented if pregnant women avoid drinking.
However, for families that may have infants or children with FASD, a number of resources are available throughout British Columbia.
For example, the Dawson Creek FASD Awareness Committee has been active since 2001 in the community, said member Jeanette Lequiere-Tough, who is also a counsellor at Aboriginal Family Services.
“We bring awareness to the community, we put together a brochure and we do education ... in schools and the community,” said Lequiere-Tough. “With the FASD Committee, we just like to focus on prevention and education.”
Lequiere-Tough said many supports are needed for a health issue that is largely invisible.
“It’s such a hidden disorder – it’s seamless,” she said. “People look OK externally, but internally their brain doesn’t function normally.”
Reay said early intervention services in Dawson Creek are offered by the Child Development Centre and organizations such as Success By 6. School District 59 also offers programs for school-age children.
The Nawican Friendship Centre also offers preventative supports, including counselling services. Drug and Alcohol Counsellor Robyn Harris said the Centre’s programming focuses more on alcohol counselling to prevent FASD in the first place.