FASD awareness day sheds light on prevention measures and resources

FASD Awareness Day will be marked with the annual BreakFASD pancake breakfast event, tak- ing place tomorrow morning

Thursday will mark Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) international awareness day, and community partners around the district are continuing their campaigns to shed light on preventative measures and available resources.

FASD is a condition that occurs in individuals whose parent consumed alcohol during pregnancy or breastfeeding. This condition could have an effect on physical, behavioural and learning abilities.

Miranda Sigurdson is a public health nurse at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), and also works in the Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program.

Sigurdson said there is strong evidence that shows that drinking alcohol while pregnant or even while breastfeeding does have harmful effects on the baby.

“Alcohol does enter the baby’s bloodstream, which could lead to the development of FASD. We really don’t know how much, when and at what point is safe, so the safest choice is to not have any alcohol at all,” Sigurdson said.

She said FASD is the leading disability in Canada, affecting four per cent of Canadians, which is why there is a FASD Community Partners of the Rainy River District. They have the goal of developing different campaigns or events that aim at focusing on prevention and awareness.

For example, they participated in different information booths and handed out information and pamphlets at the LCBO.

Prior to COVID, Sigurdson said they had a caregiver support group that was meeting regularly, connecting caregivers, and then offering them education sessions as well.

Although FASD is a lifelong disability, Sigurdson said, it is not a blanket diagnosis for each person who has FASD.

“It’s unique in that individuals will have some degree of challenges with things like daily living. They might need support for motor skills, their physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, and even just developing emotional regulation or their social skills,” Sigurdson said. “It affects people in different ways.”

Sigurdson said when they say FASD is 100 per cent avoidable, they are oversimplifying the issue, adding that they have to be careful with the way that they come across with prevention and awareness messaging in order to avoid creating stigma for pregnant women who use substances.

“We have to be really cautious with our language in that we don’t promote stigma or harm to those women, and rather, coming at it from a place of support and encouraging them to seek out access for treatment, or even just raising the importance of social support and change for women,” Sigurdson said.

Sigurdson added that awareness is not just for pregnant women. She said they also encourage young women or women of childbearing years to have discussions about reproductive health or about pregnancy and alcohol use with their families, support networks as well as their health care providers.

If a toddler or child is diagnosed with FASD, Sigurdson said the first step is to contact the primary caregivers. Sigurdson added that she encourages women who have drank alcohol earlier in their pregnancy prior to finding out to make sure that they have that conversation with their health care provider and express their concerns.

“There’s lots of different children’s services programs available throughout northwestern Ontario, and Firefly would be one of them,” Sigurdson said. “They have an infant and child development program where they can link up to things like occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language programs as well.”

There is a diagnostic clinic in Fort Frances, called the northwestern FASD Diagnostic Clinic. If individuals are wanting to seek out a diagnosis, they can contact Firefly by calling 1-800-465-7203.

The Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services also has services for children that are living on reserve. They have the Children’s First Initiative where they can access those resources, Sigurdson said. The Health Access Centre also has the Aboriginal FASD Child Nutrition Program.

The United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC) also has Canada’s prenatal nutrition program (CPNP), where they work with women throughout pregnancy to provide nutrition, resources and education.

There is also the healthy babies healthy children program that the NWHU offers. Finally, there is also a program offered by the NWHU where nurses’ help to support women throughout pregnancies and make sure that they have the resources and support that they need. According to Sigurdson, they do a lot of referrals, education and home visits.

In order to raise awareness and further the conversation about FASD, the UNFC will be holding their annual pancake breakfast at the Rainy Lake Square Market on Thursday at 10 a.m., on a first-come first-serve basis.