What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a disability that can occur in children, youth, and adults as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol, like food, and anything else a mother eats or drinks, goes from the mother’s blood into the developing baby and can change the way the baby’s body and brain are developing. Alcohol that is consumed by the mother, quickly reaches and stays with the baby affecting him/her for longer than it affects the mother.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been identified as a major public health concern in Canada. The numbers of those born with FASD continues to rise even though prevention campaigns exist around the world.FASD occurs two times more than autism and 28 times more than Down Syndrome. FADS is becoming one of the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada. Povolone reports that the prevalence rate for FASD is 4% of the population (2019).This is interpreted as over 20 000 people in BC and over 1 million in Canada.
Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (PAE) can result in physical, mental health, behaviour and learning disabilities with life long implications. Many children are impacted by PAE because the mother consumed alcohol prior to confirmation of the pregnancy. “We now have the proof that there is no safe level, there’s no safe amount, there’s no safe kind and there’s no safe time to drink when you’re pregnant” reports Sara Messelt (2019).
FASD is not isolated to culture, age, life style nor the health of a pregnant mother. Messelt(2019) reports, “The women that are most likely to continue to drink during pregnancy, are college educated women, making over 50-thousand-dollars a year” (2019). Each year, an estimated 6000 Canadian children are born with the disorder. (Popova, 2016)
In 2015, the new Canadian Guidelines for Diagnosing FASD has made it possible to now have FASD used as a diagnostic term for a range of disabilities in the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM V).
FASD is an Invisible Disability
Pre-exposure to alcohol can affect how a baby’s face develops. However, most people with FASD do not have any facial features that the common eye is able to identify. FASD is an invisible disability – there are no physical features that identify the disorder. Only trained Physicians, using unique diagnostic tools are able to identify measurable differences in facial or body features affected by FASD.
FASD And the Body
FASD does not just impact the mental processing of a person. It also impacts their physical conditions. Those with FASD experience significantly higher than normal rates of heart disorders, hearing problems, visual problems, joint and muscle difficulties, depression and anxiety. FASD is a full body diagnosis.
When individuals are not diagnosed early, as youth, they struggle through their life and do not understand why so many things are so difficult for them. They get labelled as: non compliant, uncooperative, resistant, manipulative and/or unmotivated. They begin to identify with those labels and many grow to become adults who deal with homelessness, unemployment, addictions, depression and other co-morbidities that have resulted from undiagnosed FASD, ineffective supports and trauma.
Reasons Why Women Drink When They Are Pregnant
- Women do not know they are pregnant.
Approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Most women will stop drinking when they learn they are pregnant. It is important to avoid drinking while engaging in and after unprotected sex. Preplanning pregnancies takes the risk of FASD out of the equation.
- Women are unaware of the extent of damage alcohol can cause the fetus.
- Women underestimate the harms alcohol consumption can cause because they know other women who drank during pregnancy and their children “appear” healthy.
- Alcohol use is the norm in their social group, so abstaining may be difficult.
- Women may be using alcohol to cope with difficult life situations such as violence, depression, poverty or isolation.
- Women may struggle with Alcohol Addiction
While many women are aware of the possible harms of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the effects can be varied, invisible and only apparent years down the road.
For some women, it could be hard to abstain when it’s expected that they drink, especially if people don’t yet know they are pregnant. Alcohol use is often an integral part of business networking for professionals, for general socializing and for developing relationships.
Many women find it difficult to stop drinking when their life circumstances remain challenging during pregnancy or if they have few alternatives for finding support and treatment.
How To Get Assessed for FASD
If you think you may have FASD or if someone you know may have an undiagnosed FASD, please call the office to discuss the diagnostic process and supports available, 250 938 5022