A look into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

The Public Health Agency of Canada states that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is the leading cause of developmental disabilities in Canada.

The agency states that for some time now, FASD prevalence rates have been estimated at approximately one in 100 people – which equates to more than 330,000 people in Canada.

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Rodney Jones, client care coordinator for the crisis stabilization unit at the Child and Adolescent Treatment Centre in Brandon, believes Canada is a front-runner in the areas of FASD research, diagnostics, introduction and provision of support programs.

He says research is currently being done with the hopes of detecting, at birth, a baby’s exposure to alcohol in utero.

“Although this research may potentially lend to a valid method of testing for alcohol use in pregnancy, we need to keep in mind that alcohol use in pregnancy is a risk factor and not an automatic diagnosis,” he said. 

Jones says FASD – considered an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy – is often referred to as an “invisible disability.” He says most people who suffer from the disorder will have no outward physical indicators.

“Research has found that the facial features associated with FASD develop during a small window of time in pregnancy, which means that if there is no alcohol exposure during that particular time frame, there will not be notable facial changes,” he said.

Jones says it’s important to be aware of how the central nervous system develops throughout the entire pregnancy – and that it’s the effects of alcohol on the developing brain that contribute to the change in structure and functioning of the brain, which in turn, contribute to lifelong challenges for the person.

He says more and more people are learning about FASD, however much more work needs to be done in reducing stigma and to support each other in the area of prevention.

“To support effectively, we all need to look further into the actual reasons for alcohol use in pregnancy which may include not knowing one is pregnant or not having accurate information about alcohol use in pregnancy,” Jones said.

On Friday, Sept. 9, it’s FASD Awareness Day around the world – including in the Wheat City. On that day, there will be a noon hour information luncheon that will be presented by FASD Life’s Journey Inc. at the Riverbank Discovery Centre in Brandon. 

Life’s Journey is a new supportive program that is currently developing in Brandon and surrounding area, providing various support to people 17 years of age and older who have a diagnosis of FASD or are suspected of having FASD. 

The lunch at the event in Brandon is free, but seating is limited so please RSVP to mdyce@pmh-mb.ca or call (204) 578-2487. 

It’s also worth noting the Brandon and Area FASD Committee Inc. will be providing information about FASD to students during one of the orientation days at Crocus Plains this year. The committee hopes to do the same at other high schools in the area as well as post-secondary institutions.

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