LAKELAND - The national Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness day included hundreds of supportive centres and communities across the country aiming to de-stigmatize the disability, including centres across the Lakeland.
The Sept. 9 campaign included the Lakeland Centre for FASD offices in St. Paul, Bonnyville and Cold Lake offering free barbecues and mock-tail events for participants to learn about services available and build community connections. Additionally, the organization’s fourth office in Lac La Biche hosted an awareness walk for the first time. The walk made its way through the downtown core with over a dozen community members showing their solidarity.
The national awareness day was first celebrated in 1999, and is a growing movement that is striving to bring year-round support for those who are not only diagnosed, with FASD, but also to build community awareness about the challenges that come with the irreversible disability, said Belva Cardinal, an outreach worker at the FASD Lac La Biche centre.
“It’s recognized now as a disability where in years past it wasn’t. It’s a lifelong disability that doesn’t have a cure,” pointed out Cardinal.
Through this year's theme, ‘Building Strengths and Abilities,’ the regional FASD centre hopes to fortify the message and de-stigmatize what it means to be on the FASD spectrum, she added.
“Historically, much of the research and discussion on FASD has focused on the challenges. This year, we want to be able to understand that there is good in people diagnosed with FASD,” whether cases are severe or mild, she said.
“Let’s focus on their strengths as opposed to their challenges, and that’s what this year's FASD theme is doing.”
Many of this year’s participants across the region also took part in the national ‘Red Shoes Rock’ challenge, which aims to spread the message on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Understanding the impact
The range of lifelong challenges that come with being on the spectrum are wide and are still being understood, said Cardinal. Some of the challenges people diagnosed with FASD may experience are poor judgment, and independence challenges, which she says can impact their lives and cause legal issues down the road.
“We want to be able to work with those individuals, and if they have ended up in the justice system to help them by putting a good plan in place for success.”
The Lakeland Centre for FASD provides training, employment and transition programs for individuals in need of assistance at any age, said Cardinal.
“For somebody who was diagnosed as a young person and is transitioning into adulthood, we have an individual who will work with those people,” throughout their life, she said. The centre also provides programs to assist parents and children while working to support mothers who have “recently had babies or are pregnant and want to make changes in their lives.”
By partnering with “Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Alberta Works, Child and Family Services, FCSS” and many local and Indigenous settlements and groups, the regional FASD can provide wrap-around services to support people on the spectrum, she explained.
“Those partnerships are really, really important for us… and to connect those people with the services and supports they need, supports our goals for people on the spectrum.”
Cardinal says an additional focus of the regional FASD service is to do workshops with high school students during the school year.
“High school students are a vulnerable population because they’re starting to really learn about their bodies.”
The high school age group is not only potentially at risk of being involved in alcohol-related pregnancies, but there may also be teens suffering from the disability.
"We know that teenage children can often be vulnerable to bullying as well. If there is somebody in the school who’s been diagnosed, we want to create that awareness among young people,” so they know that people on the spectrum are not at fault, and the signs of FASD aren’t generally visible, she explained.
As the organization continues to support individuals on the spectrum and with this year's awareness campaign having wrapped up, the journey is not complete, said Cardinal
“FASD day is devoted to raising awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, to improve FASD diagnosis and support for individuals with FASD,” year-round.