Monday October 22, I spoke on a Bill to make September 9, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day in Manitoba. As I indicated in my remarks in the Legislature which are below, Manitoba Liberals support this legislation.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): First of all, Manitoba Liberals support this bill. To have an FASD Awareness Day on September the 9th, I think this is important to do.
I'm going to focus my remarks on what we need to make people aware of. We have clearly some significant things that we need to be talking about. One is awareness that if you drink alcohol and you are pregnant, then your child might be born with FASD. I've suggested in question period and before this that we should have labels on all alcoholic beverages warning that if you drink when you are pregnant, then your child may develop FASD. I hope that the member for Fort Richmond (Mrs. Guillemard) will bring an initiative along this line forward.
Second thing that we should be aware of is that if you have a child who is slow to develop or has a behavioural problem, that FASD should be considered. It's important to have a diagnosis and an assessment.
I also want to bring up and talk about the fact that there is often a gap and that gap is this: that you have a child who is FASD-like, but without a history of the mother drinking. It is important that we have a diagnosis for that child in terms of the learning disability which is present and that that child has support because I have seen too many children fall through the gaps, and they're not getting support in school; they are not getting the understanding because, oh, they don't have FASD; they're just a bad kid. We need to do better than that. We need to make sure we can identify them as having a learning disability and that that can be communicated with the parents, with the school, and that child can be helped.
Thirdly, we need to be aware of the fact that children who are identified early on can actually be helped in a major, major way. It changes the life of the child where the family has a diagnosis. They become attuned to the fact that this is the reason for the child's behaviour, that this is not a terrible, awful, bad kid, that this is a child who has a real substantive problem and that we need to be sensitive. We need to know how to address or help such children, and, indeed, there can be a tremendous amount of difference from helping such children early on.
Fourth, we need to be aware of the fact that there is a lot of neuroplasticity in all our brains and that includes children and adults with FASD.
The member for Fort Richmond says that it is unequivocally a lifelong condition. Now, I've seen children with FASD or FASD-like learning disabilities who have shown remarkable learning and development, even on judgment issues, as they have aged, and sometimes it takes them a lot longer to develop the skills, and it takes a lot of patience and help.
I have also seen children with learning disabilities in the right learning environment who are, incredibly, at grade level at grade 6, and that is what having the right supports and learning environment can sometimes do for these children. They can do remarkably well, but we have to work and make sure that we are supporting them optimally.
Fifth–we need to be aware that there are some successes in preventing FASD. One community where I have seen such success is in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, in Nelson House, where they have an amazing, holistic approach to FASD. They have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of children with FASD, and that is accompanied by statistics on substance abuse showing that the community has actually had much less substance abuse with alcohol.
There is real-life examples of success in reducing FASD. We need to build on those. We need to make people aware that it's possible instead of going along, year after year, and having almost the same number of children every year with FASD.
We need to make sure that there is Awareness of the advances in neuroscience, that there are learning programs like the Arrowsmith Program, which has been developed in Toronto, which can be remarkable in enabling new approaches to learning disabilities, broadly, and to children with FASD, specifically. We are very slow to bring that approach adequately here to Winnipeg, but we need to do better.
Seventh–we need to be aware of the importance of nutrition. It remains possible that there are aspects of nutrition–vitamin A has been suggested as one example–which may prevent or mitigate the development of FASD. I believe that we need to be much more focused on making sure that women during child-bearing years and children who have FASD have the adequate approach to nutrition and are really well supported in this area.
Indeed, it is interesting that there is a physician who is dealing with dementia, at the opposite end of the lifespan, whose name is Bredesen, who has developed a multimodal approach to brain health. And we need to start using such a multimodal approach to brain health to women in child-bearing years, to others as well. We need to teach it in schools. We need to take this to children with FASD and make sure that they are supported in the optimum way in terms of the development of their brain health.
Much more is possible than we are doing at the moment. I thank the many who have come today and the contributions that you are making to the knowledge growth that we have and to the individual children and families and communities, where we are seeing help for those children with FASD and increasing efforts to prevent FASD. Thank you for being here.
Thank you for coming and supporting this effort.