The official day of recognition for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) was on Sept. 9, and although this is usually acknowledged through a community event, this year no events were held due to the pandemic.
Several organizations in Hinton offer support for those with FASD, which is a lifelong developmental disability with no cure, caused by the impacts on the brain and body from exposure to alcohol while in the womb.
“We’re pretty lucky in Hinton, I think, that we do have [several] organizations that we can use to build a network around our clients,” stated Connie Underwood, Parent and Child Assistance Program (PCAP) mentor with Blue Heron Support Service Association,
Blue Heron Support Service Association has provided an FASD mentorship program in Hinton since last April, while the Hinton Friendship Centre has offered an FASD mentorship program for much longer, explained Underwood.
“The more support they have, we don’t want to be their only support, hopefully they also have family support and friend support and other places,” Underwood added.
Blue Heron, through the Northwest Central FASD Network, provides services for individuals with FASD or suspected of having FASD in Hinton and the surrounding communities of Jasper and Edson.
Roughly 20 clients take advantage of Blue Heron’s services in Hinton and they receive a steady stream of referrals.
“As people learn about it and seek diagnosis there is more need,” Underwood added.
The program provides mentorship, support during challenges, advocate for clients, and helps build a network of support around them, explained Underwood.
Clients can self-refer or be referred to the program by other organizations.
“They get referred to us and it’s a voluntary service so if they want they can have a mentor. They can’t be forced to go along with anything in the program,” Underwood explained.
The pandemic has made things a little bit more tricky, but mentors usually help with everyday tasks like taking clients to doctor appointments, helping them discuss issues with their landlord, finding a new place to live, getting financial stability through Alberta Supports, or support with their jobs.
An individual with an FASD diagnosis may need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills.
“It is important to know each individual with FASD is unique, and will experience differences in their strengths and challenges,” stated Underwood.
The pandemic has also made it more difficult to meet clients and get them to places, since they don’t always have a driver’s license or transportation.
“We haven’t been doing in-home visits for the last couple of months. We are providing mostly online or virtual support just like everybody else,” Underwood said.
It’s tough to organize face-to-face conversations and the support they are currently able to provide is less personal.
Underwood stated that FASD is preventable and that research shows it is safest not to drink during pregnancy.
“By building awareness about FASD, and opening the lines of communication to women who are pregnant and those around them, we can begin to support them in their journey to have a healthy pregnancy,” stated Underwood.
Underwood’s role as a Parent and Child Assistance Program mentor is preventative.
PCAP mentors work with women with risky behaviours and substance use to prevent future FASD cases.
The two mentorship programs are run through the same contract and by two mentors in Hinton, as FASD mentor and PCAP mentor.
Not all PCAP clients have FASD, but they might be participating in risky behaviour and could benefit from preventative measures. The goal is to prevent clients from having future children with FASD.
“Both [mentor] programs are essentially preventative because you want to mentor them to make good decisions,” said Underwood.
FASD is defined as a brain injury, and individuals with a diagnosis will experience some degree of daily challenges.
Early identification, intervention, and appropriate support can help an individual improve their outcomes and exceed throughout their life. That support includes teachers, mentors, community agencies and programs, and family members.
Blue Heron provides support to children, adults and seniors with developmental disabilities, adults living with an acquired brain injury, adults under 65 years of age who are living in Continuing Care facilities, and families impacted by FASD.
Services are available in several communities across northern Alberta, including Hinton, Jasper and Edson.
If you are interested in learning more about FASD, or the program, contact Amy (780-223-9143) or Connie (780-223-9140) at Blue Heron Support Services Association.