CCSA to Lead Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines

Ottawa, September 17, 2020 — The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) is leading a major collaborative initiative to update Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines by March 2022.

The 20-month initiative is being led by CCSA with funding support from Health Canada and will involve key scientific experts, researchers and knowledge mobilization specialists, and representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments and national organizations.

Canada’s first Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines were developed in 2011 to support Canadians in making informed decisions about their alcohol consumption. The update will bring the guidelines in line with the latest evidence and address the unique needs of specific groups especially at risk from the harms associated with alcohol, such as youth, women, older adults and people with chronic diseases.

The inaugural meeting of the project on Thursday was attended by federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu.

Rita Notarandrea, CCSA’s CEO, said: “CCSA is thrilled to lead the initiative to update Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines by March 2022. We thank Minister Hajdu and Health Canada for funding this important project and for entrusting CCSA with its execution.

“The current Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines are a vital tool to support Canadians in assessing their alcohol consumption and in making informed decisions about drinking. Since they were first developed in 2011, the evidence on the impact of alcohol on health and its contribution to social harms has advanced considerably. This update to the guidelines will reflect the most recent evidence available and put Canada on the leading edge of the research.

“The updated guidelines have the potential to form an evidence base for future policy making and public education, but most importantly they will be a real-world tool for Canadians,” she concluded.

CCSA has assembled expert panels, led by co-chairs Dr. Peter Butt, Associate Professor, University of Saskatchewan, and Dr Catherine Paradis, Senior Research and Policy Analyst, CCSA, to evaluate the latest scientific evidence using an internationally recognized evaluation framework.

(Read more…)

What FASD Means to Me

FASD to Caregivers is what is happening in this moment. As my journey over the last 30 years has taken me to many places, from hope to despair and back again, it is hard to say exactly what FASD is to me. At one point it was the all-encompassing changing and managing of the world around my family to ensure some level of success and positivity existed. At other times it was isolation as a family unit to keep my own sanity and (what I believed) my children’s safety – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  As a caregiver, my focus has changed as the seasons in my children’s lives have changed. Thankfully, the extreme challenges of behaviours changed because I learned how to think differently about these behaviours: think brain first.

In hindsight this has always been true. The challenges I have experienced over that last 30 years were challenges until I learned what was happening and how it was being interpreted by my children. So now it is my knowledge and “wisdom”, gained through practice and supporting my children, that determines what the challenge will be. I have control over what I consider “challenging”. If I don’t have the energy to “be on” and “think differently”, then life is definitely more challenging.

Over the years – and doing some caregiving for our 400 plus individuals we have supported through the agency I work with – caregiving took on many different roles. It could be simply managing funds or being the ear that parents need to vent to or run things by. Caregiving means being there no matter what, whether it is your children or those you support, be it individuals or parents. Caregiving is loving unconditionally; riding that rollercoaster of behaviours, addictions, parenting, community and 24/7 needs, hoping that the rollercoaster has time to stop once in a while.

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COVID-19: Back to School Tips for Children with Disabilities

While parents and guardians are normally apprehensive at the start of the school year, this year brings new and never before seen challenges. With the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and guardians are wondering whether to send their children to school or opt for online learning, and if their child will be attending school in-person, what measures are in place to ensure that their child stays safe. These challenges are exacerbated for children with disabilities.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has no comprehensive reopening plan – it is up to each school board to develop its own plan for returning students, including students receiving special education supports and services. It would be best to consult with your school board to see what strategies are being implemented to help students transition back to school.

That being said, no matter what school board your child belongs to, here are some general tips that could be useful to ensure a successful return back to school for a child with a disability:

  1. Contact your child’s school now – don’t wait for the school to contact you! Ideally, you should share your child’s needs with the school before the school year begins, and update them on any changes since the pandemic began. Some factors to consider are:
    • Social interaction;
    • Behaviour;
    • Health and mental health;
    • Learning – such as skills that have been lost or gained;
    • Technology needs – including not having the proper devices for online learning;
    • Remote learning needs – such as issues with virtual platforms; and
    • Needs specific to COVID-19, such as assistance or supports required for social distancing, wearing a mask, or handwashing.
  2. Ask to meet with the child’s teacher, principal or other supports to discuss your child’s needs. Remember that meetings can be held virtually, which provides more flexibility to parents and guardians.
  3. If your child will be attending school in-person, try to coordinate an early visit so that they can get used to their physical surroundings.

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Next Steps for FASD Awareness

Dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of this disability and celebrating the successes of those with FASD, the month of September is full of events and activities for everyone.

Creative ways to celebrate

Despite the changes a global pandemic brings, people all across Canada banded together to celebrate FASD Awareness Month. From socially distanced awareness walks to viral videos and everything in between, the FASD community has found some very creative ways to raise awareness.

The FASD community takes on the Don’t Rush Challenge in celebration of FASD Awareness Day

Saskatchewan officially proclaims September 9th as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day

Foothills Fetal Alcohol Society puts 99 red balloons around their town to raise awareness of FASD

Government House in Newfoundland glows red in honour of FASD Awareness Day

Virtual FASD Awareness Day Pow Wow in Thunder Bay a huge success despite COVID-19 challenges

Face masks in Saskatchewan promote changing the conversation and challenging the stigma surrounding FASD

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments weigh in

We saw a lot of headlines about FASD month in newspapers and online media journals across Canada, including some exciting announcements from federal and provincial governments.

The Government of Canada has officially declared September as FASD Awareness Month. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, also acknowledged September as FASD Awareness Month in a public statement. She highlighted the importance of continuing to encourage healthy pregnancies and healthy families during the COVID-19 pandemic and warned of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The Government of Ontario announced $3 million annually in funding to support people with FASD. The investment initiatives include providing more FASD support workers, implementing workshops to help families develop support skills, increased training for service providers, caregiver and family support groups, and a public awareness campaign.

Alberta’s Minister of Community and Social Services, Rahan Sawhey, announced that the Government of Alberta has declared September 9th Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. Alberta now joins many towns, cities, provinces, and territories across Canada who devote September 9th to FASD Awareness activities. The Minister reminded us that we all play a role in supporting expectant mothers to have healthy pregnancies and she highlighted the work of the 12 FASD Service Networks across the province of Alberta, as well as the work of CanFASD.

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder amid COVID-19: Fewer services, potential boost in rates

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the leading developmental disability in Canada. Despite its preventable nature, there is concern among FASD researchers about a potential increase in FASD prevalence rates as a result of COVID-19, in addition to the impact the pandemic is having on the community.

FASD is a lifelong disability affecting people who were exposed to alcohol prenatally. In Canada, more people have FASD than autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome combined.

Current rates are conservatively estimated to be approximately four per cent in North America. However, FASD is very challenging to diagnose, and many experts believe that its prevalence is actually much higher.

COVID-19 compounds challenges in this community
Anecdotally, we know that individuals with FASD and their families are facing increased challenges as a result of this pandemic. Caregivers are concerned about a lack of supports, disruption in daily routine and mental health challenges.

Canadians with disabilities have drawn attention to their exclusion from COVID-19 messaging, as well to program cancellations and experiences of social isolation.

While these disruptions can have a negative impact on all individuals, they can have greater consequences for individuals with FASD and their families. People with FASD thrive with consistency and routine, but the pandemic has caused massive changes to our daily lives.

There is also concern about the future impact on mental health. While this body of evidence is still unfolding, parents reported changes in their children’s emotional state in a recent preprint manuscript (a preliminary paper that has yet to be formally reviewed), including difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, restlessness and nervousness. Experiences of parenting stress are also higher during COVID-19 among families reporting these emotional changes in their children.

These findings are concerning, especially for families of individuals with FASD who report higher levels of parenting stress compared to families of typically developing children and even those of children with other disabilities.

(Read more…)

Manitoba launches FASD pilot program to help young adults get diagnosed

Manitoba is launching a pilot program to help young adults get access to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder assessment and diagnoses, starting with those who have been involved in the criminal justice system but unable to access special supports that require a diagnosis.

“Our government believes improved access to FASD assessments will provide better outcomes for participating young adults, the justice system and our communities,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a news release Wednesday.

When the three-year pilot program launches in October, it will connect adults age 18-25 with assessment and diagnosis services from the Rehabilitation Centre for Children, including a multidisciplinary team of experts already responsible for FASD diagnoses for youth in Manitoba.

The first clients are expected to be young adults who are involved in the justice system but couldn’t get assessed for FASD before they turned 18, and were therefore shut out of a provincial court serving young offenders with FASD diagnoses.

Until now, only youth under age 18 have been able to get diagnosed with FASD in Manitoba, with few exceptions.

“People with FASD struggle to understand the consequences of their behaviour, and they often end up involved with the justice system,” said provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie, who helped create the province’s current FASD Justice Program, in the news release Wednesday.

“Assessment and diagnosis is the first step in helping to connect those with FASD with the additional supports they need.”

‘Much-needed support’

FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is a diagnosis that describes the impacts on the brain and body of individuals who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. Those impacts range widely between individuals, but can include challenges with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation and social skills.

The new pilot program is modelled off the province’s existing FASD Justice Program, led by the Provincial Court of Manitoba alongside the Manitoba FASD Centre, the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre and Manitoba Justice, provincial officials say. The program helps connect youths age 12-17 with assessment, diagnosis and support services — and once they’re diagnosed, young offenders can access a special disposition court for people with FASD.

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Pearson becomes first airport in Canada to offer the Sunflower Lanyard Program

“We’re focused on becoming more inclusive for passengers of all ages and abilities in order to provide a world-class passenger experience. That’s why we’ve introduced the Sunflower Lanyard program for travellers with invisible disabilities.”

A person’s disability is not always visible to others. Invisible disabilities can include autism, arthritis, chronic fatigue, mental health, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, speech disorders, learning disabilities and more.

By wearing a Sunflower Lanyard, passengers will be able to signal to airport employees that they may need extra help or additional time while travelling through the airport. The lanyard is visible enough to be seen from a distance but still offers privacy for the person wearing it as they do not need to disclose their invisible disability to staff.

The Sunflower Lanyard Program began at Gatwick Airport in 2016 and has since spread to other airports and public spaces in Europe and the world.

Passengers can pick up a Sunflower Lanyard at information desks in Terminals 1 and 3 and at the Lost and Found area in Terminal 1 or they can be requested prior to travel by mail through our online form, at least 14 days in advance.

(Source article)

Parents of 10 Give ‘Great Life’ to 6 Adopted with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Everyone has seen children’s tantrums, but when first-time parents Alicia and Josh Dougherty welcomed 4-year-old foster child Alex into their home, they soon learned that his were titanic by any standards.

“It could be over anything as minimal as, ‘Get your shoes on,’ or, ‘No, you can’t have five donuts,'” Alicia, 39, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

By the time Alex had been with the family for nearly a year and legally adopted, his behavior had escalated to physical aggression.

“Once he rolled up a giant area rug and threw it down the stairs at me,” says Alicia. “The strength when they tantrum is unbelievable.”

The Doughertys, of Pittsford, New York, were unaware that Alex is one of millions of American children who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. FASD can cause a lineup of physical and learning disabilities as well as behavior problems.

“It was the most heartbreaking, soul-ripping, life-altering experience,” says Josh, 41, “but we never considered giving up.”

Instead, the couple immersed themselves in helping their new son, and with the right blend of therapy, diet, medication and careful parenting, “Alex turned that corner,” says Alicia.

And then the Doughertys decided to do it again — and again. Caseworkers were so impressed with the couple’s dedication and success that they continued sending complicated children their way.

“So many people gave up on these kids,” says Alicia, “but they knew we wouldn’t.”

In addition to Alex, now 14, they have adopted five other children suffering from FASD: James, 13, Patrick, 12, Bree, 9, and twins Jordan and Jason, 5.

“We became known as the parents who could handle the difficult behaviors,” says Alicia.

“We figured, if we’re already doing this for one kid, what difference will another one make?” says Josh, a lower school special education teacher and middle and high school coach.

(Read more…)


COVID-19 Cocktails: Push For Tighter Alcohol Advertising Restrictions On Social Media

University of Queensland researchers reveal how alcohol advertisers are using social media to prey on parents and encourage drinking as a way to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Janni Leung from UQ’s School of Psychology and  National Centre for Youth Substance Use Researchsaid better policies are urgently required to support parents exposed to alcohol messaging through social media.

“It’s tough to push parents to reflect on the way their children might perceive their drinking habits while the industry has been capitalising on the current crisis,” Dr Leung said.

“Instead, we need to provide support and protect parents through these challenging times.”

A recent report found on one social media account, an average of one alcohol advertisement was shown to the user every 35 seconds.

Common themes of the advertisements included ‘easy access to alcohol without leaving home’, ‘buy more’, ‘drink during COVID-19’ and ‘drink to cope’.

“Parents, especially mothers, have shared an influx of memes on social media about using alcohol to cope with the stress of the pandmeic such as ‘maybe it takes a village to raise a child, but I swear it’s gonna take a vineyard to homeschool one’,” Dr Leung said.

“These posts risk normalising the use of alcohol as a coping strategy and promoting the false belief that alcohol is good for mental health.”

Currently the regulation system for alcohol advertising in Australia doesn’t prevent social media platforms being used by alcohol brands to post advertisements and engage with consumers.

“Most people believe this system is government funded, however it is actually an industry-funded, quasi-regulatory structure that is contested by consumer complaints and lacks systematic independent monitoring,” Dr Leung said.

“It is questionable how well Australia’s regulatory system protects parents and other targeted populations at risk from exposure to constant encouragements to drink during these challenging times.

“We hope to bring awareness of this issue to parents, government, health care professionals and service providers, so changes are made to the regulation system for alcohol advertising.”

(Source article)

3 Indigenous-Led FASD and Women’s Health Initiatives in Canada

Xyólhmettsel Syémyem (Family Empowerment Team) in British Columbia connects women and families with substance use services, child welfare services and care committees, food banks, housing services, crisis support, income support, and other community-based programs and services. The Family Empowerment Team also holds acknowledgement ceremonies for the women where the community, friends, family, and service providers gather in the Longhouse to celebrate women’s accomplishments and honour their spirit and becoming who they are meant to be. The Family Empowerment Team continues to provide wraparound support through mentorship and systems navigation. All of the mentors work in a trauma-informed, non-judgemental, and harm reduction-oriented manner. This approach allows mentors to build compassionate connections with women and help women understand their own histories, why they make the choices that they do, and how they can make healthier choices for themselves and their children. The results have been very positive as the mentors have seen that the healthier women get, the more empowered they are and the healthier they want to be.

Excerpt written by Catherine Finney in Revitalizing Culture and Healing, Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention.

The New Brunswick FASD Dream Catcher Service Delivery Model was developed and designed with the knowledge and wisdom of Elders and community partners from all 15 First Nation communities in New Brunswick. The model is a self-determining healing centred model created to help decolonize healthcare service delivery and build respectful relationships with the Mi’gmaq and Maliseet peoples. Guided by the Apigsigtoagen document, a peace-making process for deep-rooted conflict resolution through forgiveness, the model fosters collaboration and builds respectful working relationships between mothers, individuals with FASD, families, communities, and healthcare professionals by placing them at the centre of the healing journey and addressing deep-rooted conflicts. The ‘Dream Catcher’ is a living document that needs to be continually adapted to the changing needs of individuals and their families across the lifespan. The model reinforces the importance of supporting individuals on their healing journeys, fosters genuine and compassionate relationships, and ensures that mothers, individuals, and their families have the foundations for success, however that may look for them.

Excerpt written by Annette Cormier in Revitalizing Culture and Healing, Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention.

Eastern Door Clinic in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick is a multidisciplinary FASD diagnostic and support clinic. The Eastern Door Clinic in Elsipogtog First Nation developed Medicine Wheel Tools, which use a two-eyed seeing approach to draw upon the Medicine Wheel framework and Western scientific measures and indicators to develop a multi-staged screening and assessment in the school. Children who screen positive in these tools proceed to diagnosis and treatment. These tools have been successful as a result of incorporating a First Nations’ worldview and engaging parents in the screening process. Other communities have begun to adopt the Medicine Wheel Tools, this has helped communities reframe FASD to be culturally safe and focus on healing and rebalancing relationships.

(Source article)