Fetal alcohol disorder awareness month special for deputy mayor

·3 min read

Kate Akagi has seen firsthand the impact fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can have in the classroom.

Now the deputy mayor of Saint Andrews, Akagi was a teacher for more than 30 years and knew students with the diagnosis, as well as family members and friends. For a period of time, Akagi worked as a resource teacher and saw how people would mix up attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The child in question would later be diagnosed with FASD, which can come with a host of intellectual and physical symptoms.

In the early days, Akagi said, there was simply a lack of awareness and resources about FASD.

"It was a very prime time," she said, adding that while many people dealt with the disorder, not enough was done since "it was very new to us."

Early diagnosis of FASD in a child is important, she said, because after a child develops motor and coordination skills, it becomes more difficult to assist them.

But the tide has turned here, with more resources and awareness coming to the forefront.

The Town of Saint Andrews recently helped with the awareness efforts by proclaiming September as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Month. Akagi presented town council last week with a proclamation and a letter sent by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Newfoundland and Labrador (FASDNL) asking for the month of September to be dedicated toward the cause.

More than 31,000 people in New Brunswick have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, as per the 2021 census, according to Katharine Dunbar Winsor, executive director of FASDNL. Across Atlantic Canada, she said that number grows to "just over 96,000."

"FASD is sort of relatively unknown to a lot of the general public, so for that reason, it is important to educate people," she said. "FASD occurs when a person consumes alcohol during the pregnancy, and so there could be a lot of blame and stigma and shame, you know, in terms of how we talk about FASD."

Dunbar Winsor said the topic is a sensitive conversation among women and those who are affected by the disorder, so it's important to spread awareness about the complexity of the disorder. She also noted it's important to discuss prevention, awareness, intervention and education.

Akagi said she's glad the whole month is being dedicated to the cause, and it's not just a proclamation council will sign and send back. The issue is "not just in our area, it is Canada-wide," she added.

Proclamations are circulating and expected to come out throughout the month of September across Atlantic Canada, Dunbar Winsor said. The organization is expected to make regular posts on its Facebook page, including pictures from everywhere the proclamation was signed.

Dunbar Winsor said that FASDNL has been getting "a really great response from all levels of government," including the Nova Scotia premier and ministers from the health department. There will also be several awareness events organized by the group, she added.

"It's enlightening to know that, that group is doing something about it," Akagi said, "They are now getting on board and getting communities involved."

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal