What is Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is associated with bewildering number of symptoms. FASD is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. Based on the most current research, the estimated prevalence of FASD in the general Canadian population is 4% (Camh).
FASD is a brain-based and therefore, invisible injury. While individuals may share common features, every individual is unique with their own challenges.
A true story of a Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder individual
Meet Paul Thompson, who finally got diagnosed at the age of 46, after spending years struggling to fit into society and believing he has a brain disorder. After meeting the Jansens, a couple who committed to helping others and advocating for Canadians with disabilities, Thompson started to get his life back on track and go on to advocate for individuals suffering from FASD.
More than a million Canadians share Thompson’s condition, caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. FASD is seen throughout society regardless of socio-economic status or ethnicity. People with FASD have varying mental and physical difficulties and often face challenges later in life, including difficulties with substance abuse, mental health, the legal system, independent living and education. There is no cure for FASD, but early intervention can offer critical strategies for symptoms ranging from mild speech and memory deficits to severe cognitive delays. Without support, however, outcomes can be devastating: unemployment, homelessness, addiction, abuse. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of inmates in Canada may also be affected.
How has FASD affected lives?
But while FASD has been well documented for more than 40 years, it remains among the most misdiagnosed developmental disorders, and is often missed altogether. The cost to individuals is obvious. Experts estimate there is a steep cost for taxpayers as well, about $1.8 billion a year as a result of both lost productivity and added strain on the health-care and justice systems.
Without a diagnosis, many of the behaviours a child with FASD exhibits — aggressiveness, for example, or continually repeating the same mistakes — can be misunderstood and are often mishandled. By contrast, a diagnosis of FASD can unlock vital access to educational supports, financial aid, housing and employment programs. The emphasis on early intervention can also obscure the reality of living with an irreversible disorder: the need for support doesn’t end just because you turn 18.
Across the country, even adults with formal diagnosis of FASD are often stuck on long waitlists for services. Others aren’t able to access services at all, because their IQ or adaptive functioning skills are too high for provincial requirements.
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