ANCHORAGE – Sept. 9 is day set aside around the world to remind women about a problem that is 100 percent preventable and affects thousands of children a year – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD.
Alaska has the highest rate of FASD in the nation, according a 2010 state health report. It’s estimated that about 5 percent of Alaska’s total population is affected by some sort of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Joel Akers’s 16-year-old son is one of them.
“We adopted him at birth and when he was about 3 years old he got his diagnosis,” Aker said.
Aker is a teacher with the Anchorage School District and is using his son’s experience with FASD to help other students and their families.
“When we take that 5 percent figure, that means each teacher has one student in their class every single year that has FASD,” Aker said.
FASD students also have the highest drop out rate, according to Aker.
He and other advocates are working to keep those kids in the classroom by creating parent support groups, teacher training and even an animated video entitled “8-magic keys: strategies for students with FASD.”
“They are literally sending out DVD’s as far away as Australia, New Zealand, and all over the United States,” Aker said.
Meghan Clark, a member of the Anchorage FASD council, organized an event on Friday where students, parents, and care providers could share their ideas for how to better support Alaskans with FASD.
“What I hope people walk away with is just an open mind, knowing that FASD is not a disorder that you can see and to continue to be involved,” Clark said. Alaska is at the forefront on the movement.
Anchorage has one of few school districts in the world that recognize FASD as a disability, according to Aker.
State health officials say with the right diagnosis, support and understanding, many people with the disorder can live happy and full lives.
Advocates hope a world-wide day of awareness will keep the momentum for support and awareness going strong.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This has been amended.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.