Yukoners gathered in Shipyards Park yesterday for a barbecue in celebration of International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day.
There was much to celebrate.
“For so many years, FASD was not understood or even recognized,” said Mike McCann, executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon.
“Today I think you’re starting to see a little bit of a shift in people’s understanding and awareness of it.”
FASSY hosted the barbecue not only to continue to raise awareness, but also to celebrate the successes of its clients.
“Persons that have the disability are exceptional people,” said McCann.
“They have strengths and abilities that we need to celebrate also.”
Some Yukoners living with FASD found stable housing this year thanks to a new service run by the Options for Independence Society.
The apartment complex houses up to 16 people with FASD, with staff available around the clock to help out where necessary.
“Overall, I think that everybody who lives in the building is really enjoying the balance of freedom and independence to make their lives work, and at the same time having support in those areas where they feel like they need it,” said Colette Acheson, who sits on the society’s board.
People from around the world have been coming to check out the program as a potential model for elsewhere, she said.
“There really isn’t anything like this.”
The big difference is that residents determine the supports provided to them, and not the other way around, said Acheson.
“We’ve had some success. We’ve had people happy in their homes. We have people in stable housing who were not able to achieve stable housing before, because they were unable to manage the landlord or the relationships with other tenants,” she said.
“If you move along in your life and you have chaos in your housing … never knowing from one month to the next if you’re still going to be there, if you’re going to get evicted, if you’re going to be on the street because no other landlord will take you, then you live your life on the edge of your seat, or sort of a war zone way of thinking. It makes it hard to make long-term decisions and think about your own best interest, because you’re just going crisis to crisis to crisis.”
The Department of Health and Social Services launched a campaign to mark FASD awareness day that focuses on telling Yukoners about substances that can cause birth defects, including alcohol.
The online ads explain what a teratogen is (a substance that can cause birth defects) and gives examples, like alcohol, mercury and the rubella virus.
The campaign is innovative because it does not only target pregnant women, as FASD campaigns do typically, said Jeddie Russell, supervisor for education and prevention with Alcohol and Drug Services.
“That target is not wide enough. Fetal alcohol syndrome is not about one woman drinking, it’s not about one couple being irresponsible, it’s about everybody – grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers – knowing that alcohol is a teratogen.
“It’s not about those women. It’s about our community’s attitude towards alcohol. And I think the attitude changes when people really have the facts. Alcohol is a teratogen. I have no blame or shame or judgement attached to that. It’s a fact.”
Shannon Ryan is the co-ordinator for Congenital Anomalies Surveillance Yukon, a branch of the Health Department that tracks birth defects and supports families with children born with them.
She said people need to know that, for some people, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
“The consumption of alcohol is so normalized that we almost see it like a privilege, and we don’t want that privilege taken away from us.”
Ryan hopes that by widening the conversation to talk about different things that can cause birth defects, more people will pay attention, she said.
“I think if we focus on a broader range of things then we’re going to reach more people, more people are actually going to read the campaigns and think about the alcohol.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at