SEARHC hosts community conversation on FASD

December 07 2010

The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) will host a conversation about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) Jan. 5-8, 2011, in Sitka. The highlight of the week’s activities is the community presentation “FASD in Our Sitka Community — Hopeful Outcomes for All of Us,” which takes place from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 6, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. This event will feature internationally recognized FASD expert and educator Deb Evensen, MA, of Homer, founder of FAS Alaska, and Morgan Fawcett, a 19-year-old Tlingít man originally from Juneau, who lives with the effects of FASD. Thursday’s presentation will help Sitka residents learn more about FASD, especially how to support Sitka children and adults with FASD so they can experience full and satisfying lives. FASD is a disability that affects all economic, social and ethnic groups, and Alaska has the highest FASD diagnosis rate in the nation. During the week, Deb and Morgan will meet with local school officials, law enforcement/legal workers, preschool workers, medical and behavioral health providers so they can better understand and support people with FASD, a term used to describe more than 250 conditions — usually involving brain differences that occur before birth — that happen to children whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy. Deb also will teach a special one-credit graduate-level class for teachers through the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus, and she and Shannon Cross, LCSW, of Anchorage will lead a one-day retreat for mental health clinicians. It is estimated there could be several hundred adults and children in Sitka affected by FASD. Since FASD has been recognized for only about 35 years, many adults may have one of the conditions caused by FASD but not know it. Some parents may not have their children evaluated, so they won’t get the support services they need to grow and develop at the same rate as their peers. Without steady growth, FASD-affected children have higher risks of leaving school before graduation, developing mental health illnesses and experiencing problems with the law. Early diagnosis, adequate support services and living in a stable home free from domestic violence are the best ways for children with prenatal exposure to alcohol to experience the best outcomes. “It is difficult to have good outcomes in a community when or if many children are experiencing a disability no one recognizes,” said Gayle Young, SEARHC Neurodevelopmental Team Coordinator for the SEARHC Haa Toowóo Náakw Hít Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic in Sitka. “Opening up the FASD conversation in Sitka will lead to hopeful outcomes for all of us.” For information about FASD prevention, screening and treatment, please contact Gayle Young at the SEARHC Haa Toowóo Náakw Hít Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic at 966-8815 or by e-mail at gayle.young@searhc.org.