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Groups share problems, concerns and cookies.

OTTAWA

Cindy Peltier had an idea. She is the FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) coordinator at Ottawa's Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, and she organizes get-togethers for the families she works with.

But there are other families in Ottawa facing the same problems, so why not get together with them? So Cindy invited the FASD of Ottawa group over for an informal supper. That was on Oct. 19.

The evening went well, lots of chatter and good food, with the Wabano group and the visiting non-Native people of Ottawa group interacting and playing some word games that Peltier led. Then it was time to make the next step. Elspeth Ross, the co-facilitator of the FASD of Ottawa group, invited the Wabano group to one of their meetings.

That meeting will not be quite so elaborate as the Wabano session, as it is held in a basement room of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), where they don't have cooking facilities. However, there will be a sharing of problems, concerns, and cookies. Most of the CHEO meetings have an educational component to them, with guest speakers, but this one will be just to share among themselves.

While the Wabano group functions in the Aboriginal community, Ross' group also attracts some First Nations people, and some of the non-Native people in the CHEO group have adopted Native children. If the groups act together, more good things may happen.

A central problem facing FASD families is how their children do in school. It is a matter of helping children cope and learn in school, and help schools cope with the children and learn how to help them.

Unfortunately, Ontario lacks a provincial FASD strategy and Ontario educators at all levels have limited knowledge about the challenges. Ross wants to see parents involved in the school district special education advisory committees, which are mandated by law.

FAS--fetal alcohol syndrome and FASD are serious problems. They are expensive to treat and equally or more expensive to society to leave untreated.[dagger]

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FAS is the full-blown condition, while a child with FASD does not have the complete list of features that the FAS child exhibits.

The facial features of a child with FAS are usually lacking with FASD, and that may make things even more difficult for the child. The FASD child with a normal appearance may not be seen as having special needs and may just be considered to be lazy or troublesome.

Children with FASD are easily distracted and need structure in order to function well. They also do better with hands-on activities than by learning by listening. Such youngsters are not good at problem-solving and learning from experience, and they are easily led. As a result, they get into trouble. They are hyperactive. All of these characteristics mean that an effective educational experience needs to be custom-made, individualized, and adequately staffed.

The staffing involves teacher aides, with adequate backup from social workers, psychologists and nurses. That is a message that school systems need to hear, and heed.

Diagnostic support is also needed, as diagnosis is not straightforward. As well, these children may have other problems, such as depression and compulsive behavior. So there is a need for psychological assessments and for availability of psychiatrists and family physicians.

It's a tall order, making it necessary for the parents to be prepared to bring pressure to get the necessary services and assessments.

All of these difficulties can be avoided, however, if pregnant women do not drink. Yet some do. Some of these women themselves have FASD.

While FASD is a problem of the wider society, it is particularly a First Nations problem.

That is why Peltier and Ross are working to get their groups to cooperate with each other. Together families can share their common concerns. And they can work to get the educational and social supports that their children need.

By Reuel S. Amdur

Windspeaker Contributor
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Title Annotation:health
Author:Amdur, Reuel S.
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:655
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