by Wenda Bradley
Today is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day, created to increase our recognition of the risks associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
On Sept. 9, 1999, bells around the world marked the “magic minute” at 9:09 a.m. – the 9th minute of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the year. Since then, this date and time is used to remind communities around the world of the importance of the nine months of pregnancy and the importance of not drinking alcohol during these nine months.
Yet, alcohol-exposed pregnancies continue to be a leading cause of birth defects and intellectual disabilities. FASD is the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable mental disorder around the globe.
In Canada, the acknowledged prevalence is one in 100 live births. But recent studies from around the world are indicating that the rate could be as high as two to five per cent, which makes FASD bigger than all the well-known mental health disorders put together. Even at one per cent, this disability affects all Canadian communities in a significant way.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was exposed prenatally to alcohol. FASD is a group of conditions that can include many physical disabilities, including significant changes to the brain structure, neuro-transmitters and receptors. These physical differences of the brain are primarily demonstrated through learning and behavioural symptoms such as difficulties with memory, abstract language, daily living skills and reasoning.
For many individuals with FASD information from the six senses may not get into the brain correctly, information may be not sorted properly once it is there and information may not be stored properly, so that executive function (decision making) on the stored information is difficult and most likely not accurate. FASD is one of the most complex and variable forms of permanent (lifelong) brain dysfunction.
International FASD Awareness day is an important acknowledgment that this disability exists. Can we as community members become aware of people in our own community who may be struggling?
Sometimes the behavior of people you meet just “doesn’t add up.” Someone you know may repeat the same mistake over and over again, seeming to never learn. What if this behaviour is a symptom of a physical disability that is hidden? Can we help them by understanding that they may be struggling with not being able to remember what is told to them, not being able to recall information that is given to them or unable to make decisions based on that information?
Simple things like discussing only one or two ideas at a time may be helpful, giving time before expecting an answer so a person has “quiet” time to think about what you said or simply helping sort out the details of an issue may make a great difference in their life. These little acts of kindness may make someone’s day brighter.
All of us can relate to having differences in the way we think, learn, and manage ourselves. People living with FASD simply experience them more often and with more intensity.
Wenda Bradley is the executive director of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society Yukon.