People living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are raising awareness of the condition, Sept. 9.
The disorders occur in people whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy and can include physical, cognitive, sensory and behavioural problems. People living with FASD can experience trouble in school and participate in high-risk behaviours, sometimes leading to legal issues.
Lauren Richardson, who lives in Sidney, is an advocate for FASD sufferers and wants to break the taboo surrounding it. She was born in El Salvador before being adopted by a family in Ontario. She says that although her birth mother was known to have drunk alcohol during pregnancy, it was not until Richardson was 27 that she was diagnosed with FASD. Now 32, and a qualified Care Aide, Richardson says she was assessed as having a non-verbal learning disability at school but, largely because she was well-behaved and didn’t exhibit any defiant behaviours, was not diagnosed with FASD.
If teachers and doctors had identified her condition earlier, she feels she would have received more support in her academic career, saying she “flew under the radar” at school, before graduating, and then initially “struggling in the workforce.”
“There’s still a lot of stigma and that’s why people don’t really want to talk about it,” she says. “Especially mothers, and there isn’t enough of an awareness out there in the general public.”
Keen to limit the shame felt by some sufferers and to enhance the public’s understanding, Richardson is supporting the Sept. 9 day of awareness. She is one of the more prominent Vancouver Island advocates for people living with FASD and, with help from Lamar Advertising, has had big adverts placed on the side of buses promoting the day. FASD sufferers wear red shoes to raise awareness and the bus advertisements are red and black, in keeping with the chosen symbolism of their movement. As further symbolism, they chose 09/09/19 as the date, due to the nine months babies spend in their mothers’ wombs.
“My message is that everybody’s different. Every child is affected differently and it’s often an invisible disability, so you can’t always see it. And people can absolutely live a full and successful life, if they have the supports in place,” says Richardson.
The British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health found that 11 per cent of Canadian women drink alcohol while pregnant. However, this is not necessarily solely negligent behaviour as research shows drinking alcohol during pregnancy can most consistently be predicted by a prior history of heavy drinking and/or being in an abusive relationship.
“I feel sorry for them [mothers who drink during pregnancy], because there is a way out and you can get the help that you need. But go get help. Stop,” Richardson says.
Richardson is also available to talk to FASD sufferers, their families or supporters at firstname.lastname@example.org.