Flourishing with FAS

Jessica Fulmer graduated from high school two weeks ago. It's no small feat for the 25-year-old Whitehorse resident. She has fetal alcohol syndrome. But she didn't know that when she dropped out at age 17. She hadn't yet been diagnosed.

Jessica Fulmer graduated from high school two weeks ago.

It’s no small feat for the 25-year-old Whitehorse resident. She has fetal alcohol syndrome.

But she didn’t know that when she dropped out at age 17. She hadn’t yet been diagnosed.

This much Fulmer knew: She was easily distracted and easily overwhelmed.

Peers teased her. “Teachers told me I couldn’t to it,” she said.

So she dropped out. But, rather than give up, she spent seven years upgrading at Yukon College.

Now, she finally has her high school equivalency certificate.

At age 20, Fulmer was finally diagnosed with her condition. It helped explain the challenges she’s faced.

It’s been nearly 40 years since doctors established that maternal consumption of alcohol produced a variety of birth defects. Today, the broader category of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is often used to capture people who suffer some, but not all, symptoms of FAS.

Fulmer has full-blown FAS. Her biological mother gave her up shortly after she was born.

But she’s higher functioning than many people with the disorder. In 2008, she received her driver’s licence – something that many people with FAS never receive.

Fulmer works for her adopted father, who owns Fireweed Home Comfort. She helps fold and deliver flyers and with office administration tasks.

Fulmer credits the love and support of her adopted parents for helping her cope with her challenges.

Fulmer has taken to talking to high school classes about her condition. She worries that misconceptions remain rife.

There is no cure. “You can’t grow out of FAS,” said Fulmer.

And Fulmer’s living proof that people with FAS have strengths of their own. She’s an accomplished swimmer and biathlete. She loves to Ski-Doo and waterski.

Many Yukoners with FAS don’t fare so well. They become entangled in addiction, mental illness and criminal behaviour.

And once they enter Yukon’s justice system, they have a tough time wending their way through appropriate government channels for help.

The Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of the Yukon helps with this. Mary Amerongen, 66, is an outreach worker.

Once, she managed social housing in Edmonton. Part of her job involved evicting tenants.

“Looking back, some of the people must have had FASD,” she said. “They needed different supports than we had in place.”

Today, her job is to provide some of that support to clients in their dealings with social assistance staff, justice workers, landlords and employers.

But the society’s goal is to encourage their clients to become independent, so that eventually, they can fend for themselves, like Fulmer.

“We give out a lot more bus tickets and do a lot less driving than we did,” said Amerongen.

Amerongen does a lot of paraphrasing and translation for clients.

Lawyers tend to use big words. She remembers one who tried to simplify, but still overwhelmed the client.

“First she said, ‘He’s nice, isn’t he.’ Then she said, ‘What did he say?’”

But lawyers and judges are willing to adapt, if given direction. Amerongen once gave a lawyer a handout with advice on how to slow down and use simple words.

The paper was circulated in court. It changed the whole proceeding. Even Justice Ronald Veale took note.

“He was working so hard to be clear, so the client could follow what he was saying,” said Amerongen.

No one knows how many Yukon residents have FASD. But the Department of Justice has launched a study this year to find out.

Diagnosis is complicated and expensive. It requires a team of doctors, psychologists and occupational and physiotherapists, who visit the Yukon from Alberta each year. The territory is considering creating its own diagnosis team.

“We really feel there’s a need for more diagnosis,” said Mike McCann, FASSY’s executive director.

It costs about $5,000 per diagnosis. The territory spends about $50,000 annually on diagnosis, said McCann.

That’s money well spent, if it helps keep Yukoners out of the hospital and courts, he said.

FASSY has approximately 40 clients. It has three outreach workers in Whitehorse and one in the communities, as well as a prevention education worker, an office assistant, and an executive assistant.

The organization holds about six education workshops in the communities each year. Their key message is that there’s no safe amount of alcohol to consume while you’re pregnant.

Contact John Thompson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse’s Selkirk pump house on Selkirk Road in Riverdale on Jan. 26. Whitehorse city council decided Jan. 25 that there will be no advantage for local firms planning to submit proposals for the final report and design of a second barrier water treatment project for the Selkirk pump house. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
No local content weighting on pump house contract

Work will see design for water treatment system

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is issuing $10 million in rebates to employers this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Yukon employers to receive $10-million in rebates from Workers’ Compensation Board

Eligible employers will receive cheques based on total premiums paid in 2020

Connie Peggy Thorn, 52, pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to manslaughter in the 2017 death of Greg Dawson. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Greg Dawson

Connie Thorn, 52, was arrested in October 2019 and pleaded guilty in Supreme Court on Jan. 27.

Abigail Jirousek, left, is tailed by Brian Horton while climbing a hill during the Cross Country Yukon January Classic in Whitehorse on Jan. 23. Jirousek finished second in the U16 girls category. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Cross Country Yukon hosts classic race

Cross Country Yukon hosted a classic technique cross-country ski race on Jan.… Continue reading

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating Bradley MacDonald, a 42-year-old man who has been missing since Aug. 5, 2019. (RCMP handout)
Historical Case Unit seeks man missing since 2019

Yukon RCMP’s Historial Case Unit are seeking the public’s help locating a… Continue reading

Yukon RCMP said in a press release that they are seeing an increase in tinted front passenger windows and are reminding people that it is illegal and potentially dangerous. (RCMP handout)
RCMP warn against upward trend of tinted windows

Yukon RCMP are seeing more vehicles with tinted front passenger windows, prompting… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Most Read