Walk for FASD to raise people's awareness

Wed Sep 8 2004
Winnipeg Free Press

By Michael Marshall

ALTHOUGH it may be a daily struggle for the Fetal Alcohol Family Association of Manitoba to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders recognized and supported by the larger community, for at least one day this week, there will be unity for the cause.

On Thursday, FAFAM will be holding their first annual Walk for FASD. The event will start at The Forks Market Plaza at 11 a.m. and will include political dignitaries, persons who are affected by FASD and their families, and FAFAM staff and volunteers.

Leading the charge will be Leilani Buschau, executive director of FAFAM and coordinator of the event.

"We want to raise awareness about the disability and encourage the public to recognize their roles," she says.

Specifically, Buschau believes that the general public can play a part in preventing FASD, which is an umbrella term used to describe the possible diagnoses associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Diagnoses included under the umbrella are fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder, and alcohol related birth defects. "In general, people realize that during the nine months of pregnancy no alcohol is best," explains Buschau. "But what people don't necessarily understand is that (mothers who drink while pregnant) don't necessarily do it on purpose. It's not a situation of a woman saying, 'Consequences be damned, I'm going to harm my child.'"

Buschau explains that many women whose children suffer from the effects of FASD have been the victims of some form of abuse and have little support. As well, she adds, it has become a societal norm for people to drink in social situations, so women often feel extra pressure in those environments.

The FAFAM works hard to make people aware that their role in supporting pregnant women and helping them make the right choices when it comes to alcohol goes a long way in helping to prevent FASD.

Buschau, who lives downtown, says she also hopes that the Walk for FASD will help clear the air on some of the misconceptions surrounding FASD.

"One of the myths about FASD is that it's primarily a problem for a certain race, which is just not true," she says. "All races and socio-economic backgrounds are affected by it."

FASD is a lifelong neurological disability which commonly affects a person's ability to organize, conceptualize, think in abstract concepts (e.g. math and time), and memorize, among many other symptoms. What's frustrating for those who work with adults and children affected by FASD is that very often their IQs are normal, although other parts of the brains are affected.

Buschau says it's frustrating because the average person encountering a person affected by FASD often doesn't recognize the difference between being intelligent and being able to perform daily life skills, grouping it all together. They assume that because a person is intelligent they are just choosing not to function normally, she explains.

The Walk for FASD, which is being sponsored by Healthy Child Manitoba and the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, is being held to mark International FAS Day on Sept. 9.

Participants will gather at The Forks Market Plaza at 11 a.m. and after a brief ceremony will walk to the Legislative Building.

For more information on the event or the Fetal Alcohol Family Association of Manitoba, call 786-1847.



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