Community groups team up for FASD Awareness Week

Ken Kellar

A local organization is gearing up to spread awareness around drinking and pregnancy, and it’s getting help from others in the community.

The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) will be hosting and collaborating on a series of events in recognition of FASD Awareness Week from Sept 6-12.

NWHU public health nurse Miranda Sigurdson explained that the health unit and its partners decided to spread their events out over the span of a week to draw attention to a serious condition.

“FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder,” Sigurdson said.

“Sept. 9 is International FASD Awareness Day, but we as a committee have decided to do kind of a week-long incentive to increase the awareness in our district . . . and just really create a culture for women and children to support them and let them know there are supports and agencies to support them in making healthy choices for their children.”

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a diagnostic term used to describe the impacts that alcohol has on the brain and bodies of individuals who are exposed in the womb.

According to the Canada FASD Research Network, those with FASD “will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential.”

“FASD is typically a silent disorder,” Sigurdson explained.

“It can have different effects on different people so that sometimes it may not appear that people have a disability but they do, and that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.”

In recognition of the week, Sigurdson said that they will kick things off with an information booth at the LCBO here on Friday, Sept. 6.

While there are no events over the weekend, the NWHU will be holding a pancake breakfast on Monday morning (Sept. 9) at the United Native Friendship Centre on Mowat Avenue.

“We’ll have a free pancake breakfast from 8-11 a.m. at the Friendship Centre on Mowat Avenue, the Circle of Life building,” she said.

“We will have an opening ceremony with an elder and we’ll also have a moment of silence and some ringing of the bells at 9:09 a.m.

“Bells are rung worldwide, in every time zone, to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy, and Sept. 9 is the ninth day of the ninth month so it’s helping us remember nine months of pregnancy when women should abstain from alcohol,” added Sigurdson.

Pregnancy test dispensers

On Wednesday, the NWHU will be at the Copper River Inn to celebrate the launch of one of two pregnancy test dispensers in the area.

“The Copper River Inn has partnered with us, and they’ve agreed to put a pregnancy test dispenser in their women’s washroom in their lounge area,” said Sigurdson.

“What the dispenser says is ‘protecting the unexpected, think before you drink’ and it’s just encouraging women that if they’re going to be drinking and there’s a possibility that they could be pregnant to do a pregnancy test just to rule that out,” she added.

The Back Alley bar in Emo is another establishment that’s partnered with the NWHU to host one of the dispensers.

Along with pregnancy test dispensers, Sigurdson said that several bars in the area will be carrying special coasters throughout the entire month with FASD messaging on them. The Fort Frances Legion, Copper River Inn, La Place Rendez-Vous, Flint House, From the Grind Up and the Back Alley bar have all partnered with the NWHU to carry the coasters.

“The coaster just says ‘Over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, take a pregnancy test before you drink tonight. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is caused when a developing baby is exposed to alcohol,'” Sigurdson said.

Thursday will cap off the awareness week with several different events.

“We’re going to be at the market square from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. offering free cake in recognition of FASD Awareness Day,” Sigurdson said.

“We also have, from 3:30-6 p.m. at the Fort Frances Library, the Community Living Agency is going to offering a free friendship-bracelet making craft.”

She went on to explain the another event for the final day of the awareness week will be a caregiver wellness retreat, which is being held at the Little Beaver Cultural Centre from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday.

“It’s a day for caregivers that are caring for those affected by FASD,” Sigurdson said.

“It’s planned just to have some self-care, a place where they can get some tools and some resources and some support from others that are also struggling or dealing with family members or those receiving care. We have people with lived experience who are going to come and speak as well.”

While Sigurdson didn’t have exact statistics for how prevalent FASD is in the district, she said it’s still important to raise awareness about a disorder that’s still sometimes misunderstood.”Some people will say, ‘Well, my mother drank during pregnancy and it didn’t affect me,'” she explained.

“But we really don’t have the research to say how much and when is a safe amount of alcohol.”

Community partners for FASD Awareness Week include UNFC, FIREFLY, the Metis Nation of Ontario, Community Living and Kenora-Rainy River District Child & Family Services.