Renowned doctor and speaker Gabor Maté opened last week’s regional Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) conference in Smithers with a keynote address.
The conference was organized by Smithers’ FASD committee.
Speaking to The Interior News, Maté remarks that FASD is not a problem that is unique to the North but is quite prevalent in the area.
“[FASD] is a particular problem up here because of the terrible legacy of the trauma suffered by people in the residential schools and in other contexts,” said Maté. “When people are traumatized they seek to soothe their pain and to escape from their distress through substances, alcohol being one of them.
FASD is caused by a mother drinking alcohol while pregnant. According to a report on Health Canada’s website, nine in every 1,000 babies born have FASD.
“The conference is a wonderful bringing together of expertise and practitioners and educators, child care workers and others who are dealing with that so that it’s a necessary part of educating people on how to deal more creatively with this pervasive problem,” said Mate.
Maté, who lives in Vancouver and has authored four books, said that he finds that rural communities such as the ones in the Northwest have a real sense of community, moreso than urban centres.
“They know one another, they talk to one another, they participate in activities together,” said Maté. “That community building is a big part of what helps these kids because what they need is a lot of support and connection.”
Systemically, he said there’s challenges in addressing health issues surrounding FASD. For instance, he suggests that the Ministry of Child and Family Development, when seeking solutions look for short-term solutions rather than long-term.
“If you put more money now into supporting kids with disabilities and behaviour challenges you may or may not see short term results,” he said. “But if you don’t see them put the money in what you are going to see is more of these kids in jails as adults. In the long term that’s going to cost you a lot more money.”
Given the right conditions, he said, all children with FASD issues are capable of positive development in the right conditions. He said the solution is to give kids the best conditions for development, in terms of relationships with nurturing adults.
“If we can do that, a lot of these kids will do very, very well.”