Speaking out about FASD: impact, prevention, treatment - and hope | World FASD Awareness Day

September 9, 2016

Today is World FASD Awareness Day, dedicated to raising the profile of this often-forgotten disorder as well as the plight and capacity of people exposed to alcohol before birth.

Dr. James Reynolds is quoted in an online story by Jill Buchner published today in Today's Parent. The story begins with an account of Bonny Buxton and her daughter Colette, who is affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It wasn't until Colette was a troubled adult that Bonny met her daughter's birth mother, who was struggling with alcoholism and drank throughout the pregnancy.

“We have all of these key processes that are going on throughout development," says Dr. Reynolds in Buchner's article. "Alcohol can impair every one of them. When there are multiple incidences of alcohol exposure, more and more of the processes can be disrupted.”

For Collette, that meant behavioural issues once she started school. By the time she was 10, she was skipping class. In her teens, she began taking drugs. Within a few years, she was living on the street.

FASD occurs when alcohol is consumed by a mother during pregnancy and causes brain damage in the fetus. This prenatal exposure leads to more than 400 co-occuring conditions that affect nearly every system of the body, including the brain, vision, hearing, the heart, circulation, digestion, and the musculoskeletal and respiratory systems. Of every 1,000 babies born in Canada, nine are now thought to have FASD.

Dr. Reynolds discusses the most frequently asked questions about FASD and a recent study by the FASD Research Group that found a link between known prenatal alcohol exposure and gene expression throughout the brain, with "Into the Night with David Eddie" on Newstalk 1010.

The damage caused by FASD never goes away. Families raising children with prenatal alcohol exposure face tremendous challenges, children, youth and adults living with the effects struggle, and often suffer. There is hope: today, Colette is a mother herself, and an FASD self advocate with a powerful message. She has contributed to several educational videos produced by Sue Kobus for NeuroDevNet, including "FASD and Stigma: Damaged Angels Can Fly." 

To help raise the profile of World FASD Awareness Day 2016, Board Member Donna Thomson profiled three system navigators running the Fetal Acohol Resource Program (FARP) in Thomson's hometown of Ottawa. Supported by NeuroDevNet and Citizen Advocacy Ottawa, one of the main goals of this joint program is maximizing the efficiency of services and programs that already exist, versus reinventing the wheel.

In addition to creating a list of existing services and supports, FARP has also developed workshops and training programs about how to best work with children, youth and adults with FASD. Over the past year alone they have provided 30 training workshops to over 350 individuals across multiple sectors, including health, justice, social services and education.

NeuroDevNet researchers are also making strides in early diagnosis of FASD - as well as treatement. A recent study that points to changes in gene expression in children with prenatal alcohol exposure marks a first step towards identifying a biomarker for FASD, opening the possibility of even earlier diagnosis, and intervention. Watch this space for forthcoming news and information about our FASD research projects including Strongest Families, Screening Kids in Care and more.   

Photo: CBC/ (Torsten Mangner/Flickr) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-research-fasd-1.3747981