Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) affects one in 25 Canadians or about 4% of the overall population, making it the most common developmental disability in this country.

From left: Lesley MacDonald, Dr. Jacqueline Pei and Dr. Denise Milne.

“FASD is a significant problem. If you don’t think it’s in your community you’re not looking closely enough,” says Dr. Jacqueline Pei, who delivered an address on FASD on April 25th as part of CASA’s Dr. Roger Bland Lecture Series on Improving Children’s Mental Health.

“There is no safe amount of alcohol” a pregnant woman can consume, says Dr. Pei, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Alberta.

“Alcohol is really an equal opportunity teratogen – a word that refers to any agent or substance that can cross a placental barrier so it can get past our defenses and have a toxic effect on a developing baby,” she explains.

“But we do know that FASD occurs within the context of the social determinants of health, wherever alcohol is used. The more vulnerable or more marginalized populations may see higher rates (of FASD) as a reflection of that marginalization or vulnerability.”

Individuals diagnosed with FASD also experience extremely high rates of mental illness, ranging from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to depression, anxiety, trauma and psychosis.

About one-quarter of all youth treated within inpatient psychiatric facilities have FASD.

“In short, mental health issues are disproportionately represented in individuals with FASD, reflecting many complex factors. So it’s important for us to have informed treatment teams thinking about how we can move forward.”

A panel discussion moderated by Lesley MacDonald, producer of the Global Woman of Vision TV program, followed Dr. Pei’s address.

Dr. Pei’s fellow panelists included Meg Smale, a mother of six including two adopted teens with FASD; Lisa Rogozinsky, an FASD Community Educator with the Bissell Centre; and Robbie Seale, a former Child & Youth Care worker. 

Full version of CASA Chronicles Summer 2019 Here