Claire Theobal, EDMONTON — On International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day, advocates warn shaming women may be doing more harm than good for at risk mothers and their babies.
“When we focus on FASD as simply being woman drinks alcohol causes FASD, we do a disservice to women as well as to the infants. FASD is a community issue, so awareness really needs to focus on what are the reasons behind a woman’s alcohol consumption while she’s pregnant,” said Lisa Rogozinsky, co-ordinator of the Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Network on Sunday.
According to provincial estimates, nearly nine in every thousand babies in Alberta are born with FASD — around 500 every year — meaning there are more than 46,000 Albertans with FASD.
FASD describes a wide range of physical and mental disabilities caused when a mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy, including physical birth defects, developmental delays, learning disabilities, memory problems, as well as difficulties in communicating their feelings and understanding consequences.
“When we don’t support people with FASD the way in which they need, what we see are these secondary challenges that can be devastating,” said Rogozinsky.
Those with FASD can sometimes struggle with learning from past experience and understanding risks or consequences, making them vulnerable to high risk behaviours.
For children, their symptoms can disrupt their ability to learn and interact with their classmates at school.
In adults, it can cause issues with maintaining employment, addiction, homelessness and trouble with the law.
A 2011 study of Canadian inmates found 10 per cent suffered the effects of FASD despite not having been diagnosed before intake into the prison system.
“People who have FASD, they have brain differences. That means how they learn, how they respond is going to look a little bit different than a neurotypical brain. The more we recognize this, we can support the individual the way they need,” said Rogozinsky.
While messaging that FASD is one hundred per cent preventable is often repeated, Rogozinsky said FASD needs to be treated as a community issue rather than a moral failure on the part of a mother.
“We need to take a social determinant of health perspective when it comes to prevention. Prevention is not about telling women not to drink, it’s about supporting them so that they capacity to abstain from alcohol,” Rogozinsky said.