CanFASD Interview #5: Audrey McFarlane

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Audrey McFarlane has been the Executive Director for CanFASD for the last 2.5 years, and of the Lakeland Centre for FASD (LCFASD) for the past 20. Before becoming ED, Audrey had been on the board of CanFASD since 2005. Her interest in FASD began in the 1990s while she was working as a behavioral specialist for people with developmental disabilities. Upon anomalies in responses to her behavioral plans, Audrey began to learn more about FASD. She began to build a team of link-minded community leaders to develop responses to the folks with FASD she was helping, and her passion for the field was born. She will be easing out of LCFASD over the next year to transition to full time work with CanFASD.

As the director for LCFASD and CanFASD, how do you align the goals and work of these two organizations?

I find being involved in both organizations extremely satisfying.  Working with LCFASD at the local service delivery level helps to keep me grounded on what the everyday issues are that individuals, families, and service providers face. Meanwhile, working with CanFASD on the national level helps to elevate and stimulate my thinking to a larger view of issues. They are quite complementary. 

Throughout your work, what is the project that has had the biggest impact on people affected by FASD?  

The LCFASD has had many firsts, such as the first diagnostic clinic in Alberta, and the first adult diagnostic clinic in Canada, as well as setting the standard for rural community based services. I think that these have had significant impacts on the people locally, but it has also provided a model for rural communities everywhere so that they can develop supports, even with very little resources.  Developing these services is what led me to the Canada FASD Research Network: as a desire to get LCFASD some recognition for their accomplishments.

How has your work impacted people across Canada? 

My role as the Executive Director of CanFASD is to make sure all the parts of CanFASD are moving towards its mission.  However, there are many projects that I think are having (or will have!) significant impacts on Canadians. The development of the National FASD Database is going to validate or change what we know about people with FASD and their needs as we build the numbers in this database. Working towards medication algorithms for physicians and caregivers to track effects of medications on children with FASD is going to have significant treatment impacts. Developing screening tools to identify people who may be FASD that is validated will have workforce impacts for all human service sectors. And many more projects to come!

What are the major changes in attitudes/understandings towards people affected by FASD in AB/Canada that have been in part caused by LCFASD/CanFASD’s work? 

CanFASD has developed the Common Messages document that works with the FASD language guide developed by the Living with Dignity group in Manitoba – these have really helped leaders, reporters, and researchers to use sensitive and accurate information when speaking about individuals with FASD.  Much of my soapbox is about stigma and that it is us (society) that continue to perpetuate these stereotypes and incorrect views that keeps stigma alive.  Having people comfortable speaking about FASD, using it in sentences, having strong signage on buildings etc. makes it more commonplace and acceptable.  At the LCFASD we have 4 offices in a fairly large region – all have large signage of our work, and we have people using our buildings for all kinds of reasons, making it acceptable to visit, thus reducing the stigma on anyone with FASD that meets with the agency.  I am hopeful that as CanFASD delivers more and more evidence-based training on line, the stigma will reduce as more and more professionals will have accurate information.

Lakeland Centre for FASD

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