I just learned of a symposium on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to be held on March 24, 2011 at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Aimed at social service workers, teachers, government policy makers and caregivers, it is the first conference of its kind to be held in Ontario.
FASD describes the full range of disabilities in a child caused by the brain damage incurred from prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is the leading cause of developmental disability among Canadian children. It cannot be cured; it is a lifelong disability. It is estimated that 1 in 100 babies born in Canada have FASD.
Until recently, FASD has been under the radar. Unlike autism and Down Syndrome, few professionals know anything about FASD and there are virtually no services or supports for individuals who have the syndrome. It's time for the severity and breadth of the disability to be recognized; for social service professionals to learn about the toll it has on individuals and their families; and for service providers and government policy makers to designate funds to help people in their communities suffering from this life-long, irreversible condition.
When my adopted son was born with what was then called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS),few doctors knew about the brain damage caused to the fetus by consuming alcohol while pregnant. Crack babies were making the headlines at the time, though it was later proven that crack does not pass through the placenta as does alcohol, and therefore causes negligible harm to the fetus.
My son had severe behavioural problems from the day we brought him home from the hospital at seven days old, but no one, including our pediatrician, had a clue why. Because our son's birthmother said she hadn't drunk any alcohol or taken drugs during her pregnancy, my husband and I assumed our son's problems were caused by bad parenting. Unfortunately, we weren't the only to think so.
When Michael was six years old, he entered the public school system. After three months, he he was 'expelled.' It was then our pediatrician decided it was time to have Michael assessed at the Child Development Clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children. After several days of testing, the verdict was in. He had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was irreversibly brain damaged. The expected prognosis wasn't good: he would drop out of school, be unable to hold a job, live on welfare and be in and out of prison system. "However, with early diagnosis and intervention, you may be able to turn these expectations around."
Our son is now 23, a kind and shy soul. He did drop out of school, hasn't yet been able to hold a job, and fortunately, has had no trouble with the law. He functions poorly in the world, but has recently discovered that he has a gift for woodcarving, and is now producing some lovely pieces. It brings him a few dollars and a lot of pride. All good.
It is my hope that this upcoming conference will fulfill its expectations: to work toward a provincial FASD strategy; advance effective educational and service provider practices.
Should anyone be interested in attending the conference on March 24, go to www.fasdontario.ca
Look under Events.