No known amount of alcohol safe for a fetus
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09/09/12 Ninth Day – Ninth Month Mark International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day
No known amount of alcohol safe for a fetus 

September 9, 2012 — On September 9—the ninth day of the ninth month—people all over the world are recognizing FASD Day as a reminder of the lifelong effects that drinking during pregnancy can have on a child. It’s also a day to recognize those who have been born with FASD and to ensure that families have access to the help that’s available when living with the challenges that FASD presents.
“There is no known level of alcohol that is considered safe for a developing fetus. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can affect a child’s development in a number of ways,” said Sherisse Picklyk Dear, a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) diagnostic coordinator for the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority. “FASD is an umbrella term that includes three different medical diagnoses.”

According to Picklyk Dear, the diagnosis of a child with FASD is just the beginning for families. The child and caregivers then need to be provided with support and education for home, school and in the community.

“Individuals with FASD have many strengths and gifts. The support and information that comes with a diagnosis goes a long way to helping kids reach their full potential,” Picklyk Dear said.

Diagnostic coordinators review referrals of children and youth from the region to ensure they meet the criteria required for assessment at the Manitoba FASD Centre in Winnipeg. Devon Ungurain, who is also an FASD diagnostic coordinator with the Interlake-Eastern RHA, said she is often asked how FASD can still occur when the link between alcohol consumption and FASD is widely known.

“There are lots of reasons why a woman might drink during pregnancy. Recognizing womens’ different life experiences can help us be more understanding when a child is born with FASD,” Ungurain said. “A woman may be at least four weeks into a pregnancy before she has reason to believe she’s pregnant.  Often women do not fully understand what lifelong effects alcohol may have on an unborn child, or they struggle terribly with addictions.” 

In the case of LeAnne, whose 17-year-old son was diagnosed with FASD when he was 10, she wasn’t aware of that drinking while pregnant posed health risks to her baby.

Her son, an impulsive boy with difficulties learning and an inability to remember, had been previously diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When a school worker suggested he be tested for FASD, she remembers feeling relief when the diagnosis was confirmed.

“I was glad to know that we now had a path to follow to address the specific requirements he has,” LeAnne said. She added that with the relief came guilt upon recognizing her actions had affected her son so profoundly.

“There is a lot of guilt that I work on all the time,” LeAnne said.

Through her interaction with the Manitoba FASD network, she has accessed support, advice and opportunities for education. She regularly attends conferences and workshops and has joined family associations in Manitoba and other provinces. Reaching out has put her in touch with current information on FASD.

“It’s also therapeutic because it helps with the guilt and other emotions. You meet people who have been through or are going through the things that you’re experiencing,” LeAnne said. 

The path towards a better understanding of her son has required her to adjust her attitude as a parent.
“I now know that a lot of stuff we’re dealing with isn’t his defiance – it’s his inability. I’m a little more relaxed. A laid back attitude works good with us. I don’t demand or ask him to do anything immediately, time for him to prepare and process tasks is important,” LeAnne said.

Since 2009, approximately 160 referrals have been made to the Manitoba FASD Centre from the Interlake area and the area east of Lake Manitoba to the Ontario border. As part of their roles as FASD diagnostic coordinators, Picklyk Dear and Ungurain provide follow-up after diagnosis to the child’s circles of support including parents/guardians, school professionals and community supports. They also share FASD information with the community including co-hosting an eight-week educational session called Building Circles of Support. The long range goal for the diagnostic coordinators and members of the Manitoba FASD Network is to have satellite clinics in each region allowing families the ability to obtain an FASD assessment closer to home.  

In recognition of International FASD Awareness Day, Picklyk Dear will be hosting an FASD information table in Selkirk on Saturday, September 8 from 1 to 4:00 p.m. at Safeway.  Ungurain will be co-hosting a community event in Hollow Water on Wednesday, September 12 from 1-3 p.m.

For more information and to speak with the FASD diagnostic coordinators, contact:
Lauralou Cicierski, manager of public relations and communications, Interlake-Eastern RHA, 204.467.4747,

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