A community walk and guest speaker will mark this year’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day locally.
Held every Sept. 9, local organizers are hoping to get the message out about the day and hopefully have even more people involved, noted Erin McMahon, aboriginal FASD and child nutrition worker with the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre here.
McMahon said the health access centre tries each year to co-ordinate some sort of event for the day with the help of partnering organizations, including the United Native Friendship Centre and Seven Generations Education Institute, with last year’s pancake breakfast drawing more than 500 people.
This year’s events for the day will begin around 9 a.m. with a walk from the health access centre on Couchiching to the Sunset Country Métis Hall here in town.
Then at noon at the hall, guest speaker Francis Perry, from Truro, N.S. and the Mi’kmaq First Nation, will address those on hand.
Now 32, Perry first was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at the age of 19.
“The whole goal of the day is to raise awareness about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder—both the causes [and] the impacts it has on the lives of the people that are affected with it,” explained Shanna Weir, executive director of the health access centre.
“That’s part of the reason for bringing in Francis, is for him to be able to speak firsthand on what of some of the impacts are on his life being affected with FASD,” she remarked.
FASD is a term used to describe a range of effects that drinking can have on a baby while developing in the womb and afterwards, explained Heidi Smith, Aboriginal Healing & Wellness co-ordinator for the UNFC.
While there is a lot of awareness about FASD, Weir noted it also is highly undiagnosed, and there are very few clinics that actually diagnose FASD as a disorder.
“From what I’ve read about Francis, it was a struggling process growing up—because it wasn’t diagnosed,” said McMahon.
“A lot of people don’t know, especially if a kid is in care—and they struggle with behaviour issues,” echoed Smith.
“And then they don’t know—and kids can just be labelled,” she added.
But FASD also is 100 percent preventable by not drinking during pregnancy, Weir stressed.
“That’s really sort of the bottom key message that we try to get out there,” she noted.
“That it is preventable and that there’s a lot of resources and supports in the community at the different organizations, including ours and the UNFC, to provide support to moms who are pregnant, or people with addictions.”