CBC: Walking Together

By Caitlyn GowrilukJan. 4, 2023 (Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/newsinteractives/features/manitoba-fasd-lifes-journey)

Rosetta Bignell’s life used to be very different from how it is now — and looking back, she’s proud of how far she’s come.

Growing up, Bignell describes herself as “a bad kid.” She had challenges at school. She threatened staff at her group home after being taken into child and family services for a few years beginning at age 12. She tried to run away.

It was also around that time she was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (also known as FASD), which affects the brain and body of a person exposed to alcohol in the womb. Its effects vary, but commonly include difficulties with things like impulsivity and understanding consequences, the Canada FASD Research Network says.

After Bignell was diagnosed, she says she started seeing a therapist, but her challenges continued.

Eventually, she was drinking almost daily and getting into trouble with the law. She developed Type 2 diabetes and became a heavy smoker. Bignell dropped out of school in Grade 10 and then, at 23, had a baby who relatives stepped in to raise.

She also struggled with anxiety, which people with FASD have an increased risk of developing, the Canada FASD Research Network says.

“I didn’t get the help I needed, that I wanted,” says Bignell, now 41.

Safe place to call home

But in her late 20s, her path changed when she connected with Life’s Journey, a Manitoba organization that works with people who have neurodiversities including FASD and autism spectrum disorder.

Because of challenges recognizing and diagnosing FASD, it’s hard to know exactly how many people in Canada have it.

The most recent data available from Health Canada estimates in 2019 the rate was about 0.1 per cent among children and youth, but much higher — 1.2 per cent — for Indigenous people in that age group living off reserve.

And while those numbers include the vast majority of kids and youth, they don’t include those living on reserves, in foster homes or in institutions.

The FASD research network says the actual prevalence rate across all age groups in Canada is likely closer to four per cent of the population.

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