It can take only seven drinks in a week, or one night of binge drinking – with four alcoholic drinks or more at one time – for a pregnant mother to cause permanent brain damage to her baby.
“I'm really hoping it surprises people. I'm hoping it shocks them into awareness,” said Kelly Oreskovich, a social worker with the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Clinic at Health Sciences North's NEO Kids.
Oreskovich was among a large group of community stakeholders, parents, health-care professionals, educators and representatives from local law enforcement that gathered at the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre Community Centre last week for a community forum on International FASD Day.
Shelley Watson, a Laurentian University psychology professor, whose research focuses on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and autism, said there is no safe time to drink during a pregnancy.
“Research shows that one binge episode, at a discreet period of time, can have lifelong impacts,” she said. “It affects people of all socio-economic statuses, all ethnicities, all cultures.”
While FASD has commonly been associated with First Nations communities, Watson said it actually affects a much broader proportion of Canadian society.
In a 2004 Canadian Addictions survey, more than 76 per cent of women over 15 years of age reported drinking alcohol within the previous 12-month period.
And nearly half of all pregnancies in Canada are unintended.
The highest rates of unintended pregnancy occur in girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19, which is also a population at increased risk for binge drinking.
One goal of Thursday's forum was to bring together different stakeholders to better co-ordinate various services across Greater Sudbury that can help children, and adults, with FASD.
While NEO Kids has a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Clinic, which can diagnose children under the age of 18 with the disorder, Oreskovich said there are no services in the region to specifically support children with FASD.
Ontario does not have a provincial strategy for FASD, she said.
The disorder also manifests itself differently in every child and adult who has it.
“No two children with FASD are alike,” Oreskovich said.
For some it can lead to learning impairments, while for others it causes behavioural issues, or communication problems.
Each intervention must be tailored for a specific child, Oreskovich said, and the earlier those interventions are applied, the better their outcomes.