Holiday season compounds isolation for those with FASD

In Whitehorse there’s not enough Christmas cheer to go around. And individuals suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are getting the…

In Whitehorse there’s not enough Christmas cheer to go around.

And individuals suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are getting the short end of the stick.

“Christmas is a lonely time for them,” Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon adult diagnostic co-ordinator Lilliam Sequeira told a media conference Tuesday.

“They have no family and no friends.”

FASSY support worker Marge MacLeod remembered working with one young fellow drifting in and out of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

After her first visit, MacLeod gave him a hug.

“If I feel someone needs a hug, I give it to them,” she said.

She didn’t think twice about it.

But, when MacLeod returned to visit the young man the following week, he said, “That’s the first time anyone’s hugged me in three years.”

“I almost cried,” said MacLeod.

FASSY is planning a holiday supper for December 28th, but this is not enough, said Sequeira, who already has clients asking who is buying them presents.

“No one is inviting them to parties, and no one is buying them gifts; they’re just lonely in their apartments — those that are lucky enough to have apartments,” she said.

There are roughly 800 people struggling with the disorder in Whitehorse, said Sequeira.

Right now, only 56 of them utilize FASSY. And three of Sequeira’s clients are homeless.

“That may not seem like a lot,” she said. “But when they’re out there walking the street, even one is too much.”

Sequeira’s talked with young women coping with the syndrome who’ve gotten into fights to get into jail, so they’d have meals and a warm place to sleep.

“Or they start drinking so they can go to detox, if there’s room,” she said.

“There are lots of situations where (RCMP) encounter clients on the streets in need of support, to deal with the challenges of day-to-day living,” said FASSY board member and RCMP Cpl. Grant MacDonald.

And all three territories share the challenge of coping with those affected by FASD, he said, noting that his role as a board member has given him tools to better deal with the people he serves.

“People struggling with FASD have so many strengths,” said Sequeira. “But people don’t see these, because they are too busy focusing on the negative.”

One client could have been an NHL player, she said.

Another won 200 gold medals cross-country skiing in the Special Olympics, and one is a fantastic artist.

“But art’s not a priority for him right now, because he’s dealing with homelessness,” she said.

Housing is a big problem, said Sequeira.

“And I keep thinking, so much has been done for the Canada Winter Games, and there’s still no place for these people to live.”

Sequeira encourages the public to smile at people on the street, rather than cross the road to avoid them.

Community members should open their hearts to these people, she said.

FASSY welcomes gifts, prepared meals that can be frozen, socks and toques to help make their clients happier during the holiday season.

“Last year we bought everyone gifts out of our own pocket,” said Sequeira.

Donations can be dropped off at FASSY, across from the Yukon Inn.