Letter to the Editor

The real story Re What’s FASD diagnosis worth? (the News, April 9): Our enthusiasm over the Yukon News’ interest in letting Yukoners…

The real story

Re What’s FASD diagnosis worth? (the News, April 9):

Our enthusiasm over the Yukon News’ interest in letting Yukoners know about the exciting developments in FASD diagnosis quickly led to disappointment and dismay upon reading the misinformation conveyed in this article.

It’s unfortunate that the Yukon News chose to report erroneous calculations around expenditures.

The actual cost of a diagnosis (presently about $5,000) is considerably cheaper than reported, and decreasing with the team’s experience.

As a non-profit agency, the Child Development Centre has to be fiscally responsible in order to survive!

The majority of the funding that the Child Development Centre receives annually from the Yukon government is used for diagnosis as well as support and education.

Furthermore, the Child Development Centre has presented Yukoners, and Canadians, with an excellent model of collaboration and support for some of our neediest children.

In 2003, the Child Development Centre was asked by the Yukon government to develop a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnostic team for young children.

In both Canada and the United States, experts agree that a multi-disciplinary approach is the preferred way to diagnose Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

In other words, diagnosis is best when a team of professionals works together to capture the most accurate picture of a child.

To this end, the Child Development Centre developed a preschool team consisting of a physician, a speech language pathologist, psychologist, occupational therapist and a co-ordinator.

It soon became apparent that in order for diagnosis to be useful, follow-up planning was critical.

In the Yukon, we went a step further, one that makes the Yukon model unique and the envy of other provinces and territories.

The diagnostic part is straightforward; it’s what happens to the child after the diagnosis that is vital to the child’s well-being.

Following the diagnosis, the team, the family and community resources get together to build a plan that meets the special needs of each child.

The Yukon was the first in Canada to create a team that does both diagnosis and support.

The calculation made by the Yukon News does not address the support given to families, daycares and other resources, all of whom need training and assistance in how best to meet the child’s needs.

Early detection and treatment of children saves millions of dollars in the future.

For every dollar spent on a young child with special needs now, the cost, without early intervention, increases to seven times as much later on in life!

Nor does this calculation account for the training and information sessions that the co-ordinator regularly holds with numerous agencies throughout the Yukon.

The co-ordinator is also responsible for organizing both the preschool as well as the school-aged diagnostic teams, comprised of consultants from the department of Education.

It’s curious that the Yukon News reported that the assessment of school aged children is cheaper when in fact the same funding is used to co-ordinate both teams.

Finally, the article does not address the fact that by establishing the teams, we are building community capacity in Yukon.

Until the teams were developed, there were only 11 people on the Yukon registry diagnosed with FASD.

Yet we’ve known for some time that these numbers in no way reflect the true magnitude of this condition. There was reluctance by physicians to perform this diagnosis.

However, the diagnosis is necessary in order to provide appropriate treatment.

Today we’re getting better, more accurate numbers and, most importantly, individuals with the diagnosis are more likely to get the help they need.

And all of this is happening at a local level; families don’t have to go to Vancouver or Calgary or Edmonton, which is extremely costly.

The diagnosis and accompanying support are available locally. The cost is cheaper and the results are better.

It’s unfortunate that the article in the News did not choose to look at the actual cost savings of developing this type of a team locally.

It is also too bad that the article failed to recognize the way in which organizations such as FASSY, department of Education, Health & Social Services, Child Development Centre, medical personnel, child-care programs and others collaborate in order to support children, youth and adults with FASD.

That’s where the real story lies.

Irene Szabla, executive director, Child Development Centre, Whitehorse