CBC: New approach to FASD in N.W.T. focuses on accommodation, not behaviour

Walter Strong · CBC News 

Nathalie Brassard, FASD consultant and facilitator with FASCETS Canada West, led a three-day workshop in Yellowknife on a ‘new’ approach to treating FASD. (Walter Strong/CBC)

A new wave of thinking on how to work with those who live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has arrived in the Northwest Territories.

It aims to recognize FASD as a brain-based physical disability, with symptoms or effects expressed through undesired behaviour. But instead of a focus on correcting the behaviour, this “brain-based” approach is focused on accommodating the disability before the bad behaviour happens.

A three-day workshop in Yellowknife this week presented the approach to more than 150 parents, and front-line social, mental health, and justice workers in the N.W.T.

“Until recently … FASD has been understood as a condition,” said Nathalie Brassard, the FASD consultant and facilitator with FASCETS Canada West who led the workshop.

“We knew what caused it, but we didn’t really know quite what to do for the individuals…. We focused on … behaviours, not realizing that behaviours are only a sign for the root cause, which is a brain that functions differently.”

It’s estimated by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) that one out of every 13 women who consume alcohol during pregnancy will deliver a child with FASD — a disorder with a range of mental, physical and behavioural effects that result from neurochemical and structural brain damage in the mother’s womb. It can interfere with a person’s ability to successfully function in daily life.

In Canada, the CAMH estimates that eight out of every 1,000 children have FASD, although rates are generally acknowledged to be higher in special populations, such as the child welfare system or the justice system. According to the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, there are no statistics on the prevalence of FASD in the territory, but between one and four per cent of the Canadian population is affected by the disorder.

A paradigm shift

Brassard described the change in focus — from behaviour correction to disability accommodation — as a paradigm shift.

Shawna Pound, the adult FASD program coordinator for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, said the territory would like to see Brassard’s approach to FASD expand in the territory. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

“The importance is to realize who we have in front of us — to ask ourselves, who is this person? What do they need? How do they function or function differently? What’s hard for them?” Brassard said.

“By providing accommodation and support, those behaviours that we’ve been focusing on reduce on their own, and diminish and disappear.”

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society, its stakeholders or funders.

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