Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder & NorWest Community Health Centres Services
Language shapes the way we view the world. In particular, language is a powerful tool in influencing how society and culture thinks about and views disabilities. Historically, language used to describe individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has resulted in further discrimination and stereotyping. As well, language can contribute to mindsets that limit the aspirations of people with disabilities or mental health needs, potentially causing them to doubt their self-worth. Therefore, changing the way we speak and write about FASD, as well as focusing on a person’s strengths and abilities, rather than their challenges and disabilities, can help to change perspectives about FASD.
The Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD) has created a recommended definition for policy makers, service providers, and communities to adopt:
“Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.”
By using a common definition of FASD across the country, CanFASD believes it will help to reduce stigma, increase understanding of the disability, increase consistency in messaging and reduce confusion, and help to create a change in perspective to a more strength-based, holistic approach to FASD.
Reducing the stigma surrounding FASD and the resulting discrimination is important. Many people affected by FASD, as well as pregnant women who drink alcohol, often feel judged by others. This prevents them from seeking services and interventions that would contribute to an improved quality of life and in some cases can impact the quality of care they receive. Research shows that early and appropriate supports can make a positive impact and improve outcomes for people with FASD.
NorWest Community Health Centres (NWCHC) is one of approximately 12 FASD diagnostic (testing) centres in Ontario and provides a stigma-free environment with access to services, programs, and quality care for those living with FASD. The FASD diagnostic clinic offers full pre-assessment and diagnostic services for individuals of all ages. Pre-assessments, screening and diagnosis are provided by the diagnostic team which includes physicians, nurse practitioners and the FASD Coordinator. The team will consult and refer as needed to speech language pathologists, audiologists, occupational therapists and psychiatry.
NWCHC provides a variety of supports and services for people with FASD including:
- primary health care (about half of those with FASD do not have a family doctor or other primary care provider)
- specialized health care related to FASD
- help for those living with FASD including counselling and peer group support, education programs, and community training
- parenting program for parents and caregivers of children with FASD
- information and awareness to prevent FASD.
NWCHC also hosts a variety of activities for individuals affected by FASD including: volunteer opportunities; life skills programming; art programs; and more. Individuals are provided with opportunities to develop relationships and life skills, increase awareness of community resources and activities, and participate in activities that incorporate physical activities in their life.
Assistance with application to the Ontario Disability Support Program and referral to other community agencies, as necessary, is available through NWCHC. A care giver support program is also offered through NWCHC to provide support to those caring for someone affected by FASD.
NorWest Community Health Centres is committed to education, prevention, and diagnosis with regard to FASD and provides a variety of FASD-specific services and programming. For more information about our FASD programs and services, contact Maureen Parkes, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Coordinator at NorWest Community Health Centres, at (807) 626-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Naomi Giuliano is a Health Promoter at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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