Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Alcohol was introduced to Inuit by the whalers. Prior to that, alcohol was unknown but traditional Inuit prenatal nutritional knowledge advised pregnant women not to consume berries at certain times of the year because of natural fermentation. Alcohol consumed by a mother during pregnancy may result in a baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This permanent condition affects the physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioural development of an individual and is 100 per cent preventable.

Reliable data for FASD among Inuit are not readily available. Results from the Census and from the Aboriginal Peoples Surveys (APS) are often suppressed for reasons of statistical reliability or confidentiality. For example, the 2006 APS data on FASD among Inuit children aged six-14 is suppressed for all Inuit regions due to the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act. However, the survey does report that five per cent of those Inuit living outside of Inuit Nunangat have been diagnosed with FASD.

Another indirect measure for the potential for FASD is in terms of alcohol abuse. Binge drinking is a problem within Inuit communities, especially among young people. A recent study conducted by researchers with the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in two communities in the south Baffin region of Nunavut determined that youth aged 11 to 20 are two to three times more likely to take drugs and drink alcohol than their peers in southern Canada, and that girls, as young as age 14, are more likely to binge drink that boys. These concerns, combined with a very young and quickly growing population, reinforce the need for pro-active, culturally relevant FASD prevention interventions and supports for pregnant mothers-to-be.

Alcohol and drug abuse are also risk factors in the spread of sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and may be a contributing factor for Inuit FASD. The results of the 2006 APS reveal that heavy drinking — defined as five or more drinks a day one or more times per week — are self-reported to be as high as 28 per cent among Inuit females in Nunatsiavut. In Nunavut, where eight communities have prohibited alcohol, the rate for heavy drinking is substantially lower.

FASD is an umbrella term that includes a range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities with lifelong implications. Children with FASD often display such characteristics as extreme hyperactivity, aggressiveness, poor judgment, and speech and language difficulties. The nature and extent of the damage to the baby depends on a number of factors such as when the mother drank during the pregnancy; the pattern and frequency of alcohol consumption (for example binge drinking); the use of other drugs and other biological features of the fetus and the mother.

Since 1995, Pauktuutit has been engaged in the prevention and treatment of FASD among Inuit and has been an advocate for greater commitment among stakeholders to work towards eliminating FASD in Inuit communities. Pauktuutit is committed to enhancing prevention and access to diagnosis within Inuit communities and to supporting individuals and families coping with FASD. This effort has included participation on national advisory committees on FASD.

In 1996, Pauktuutit conducted an information-sharing and skill-building workshop on FASD. Also in 1996, Pauktuutit prepared a resource guide entitled Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Resource for Inuit Communities to Understand What FAS is and What They Can Do to Help. Another FASD resource guide was prepared in 1998 entitled Ikajuqtigiinniq based on information gathered at a national Inuit FASD workshop.

In 2001, Pauktuutit completed a video entitled Before I was Born as a way to inform Inuit youth about the consequences of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and to provide support to families living with FASD. This video was part of a larger information kit that included a viewer’s guide, a radio play, and a poster. In 2003, an Inuit-specific FASD health promotion resource kit called Children Come First: A Resource About FASD was developed. The kit includes a flipchart and manual. Together the two resources have been used in a number of FASD prevention training workshops for frontline workers to help them engage community participation and to raise awareness.

In 2004, Pauktuutit held an FASD train-the-trainers workshop, where Inuit facilitators received instruction in the delivery of Pauktuutit’s four-day FASD training workshop. In 2005, these facilitators conducted Pauktuutit’s FASD workshops for front-line workers in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Puvirnituq, and in Ottawa. Building Inuit capacity for the delivery of these programs is critical to ensuring that Inuit communities will be able to effectively address FASD-related issues.

In 2005, a survey of FASD training opportunities within Inuit communities was conducted by Pauktuutit in partnership with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The survey respondents identified the need for more attention to FASD in the communities, especially in the area of diagnosis and intervention training.

In 2006, Pauktuutit, in partnership with the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), designed an advanced FASD training workshop for frontline workers and other health care providers. ‘Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD’ focuses on strategies to support women at risk and is part of a larger strategy to assist communities to examine the broad determinants of health that impact the lives of pregnant women and women in their childbearing years who use alcohol or drugs. Regional workshops were conducted in Inuvik, Cambridge Bay, Kuujjuaq, and Inukjuak.

In 2007, Pauktuutit formed a partnership with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Junior Rangers to develop and conduct an advanced FASD training workshop for their trainers.

Pauktuutit has developed a manual for early childhood education entitled ‘Piaranut For Our Children: Quality Practices in Inuit ECD.’ This resource includes a chapter on challenging behaviour, with particular attention to behaviours that may result from such factors as FASD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities, and delays in speech and language skills. A key concept is the strength-based approach — the need to focus on the positive and a child’s unique strengths — in order to help the child develop appropriate behaviours. All Inuit children deserve the opportunity to grow and flourish in a nurturing environment. The strength-based approach assists those with challenging behaviours to succeed in Head Start programs, child care and in school.

Another relevant resource is Born on the Land with Helping Hands: The Inuit Women’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. This practical pregnancy calendar incorporates important nutritional and medical knowledge about healthy pregnancies and information about traditional midwifery.

The development of the recent Inuit five-year FASD strategic plan was guided by four focus group sessions conducted in early 2010 by Pauktuutit to better understand Inuit knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours about FASD and to help identify, with partners, the priorities for action in the years to come. The focus groups filled gaps in current knowledge and have contributed to developing the strategic directions that best address the needs of Inuit individuals, families, and communities. Consultations culminated with a two-day FASD strategic planning session that took place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, in March 2010. Participants with a background in FASD, early childhood development, and in childcare education gathered from across Inuit Nunangat to discuss the problem of FASD and to plan for the future.

Publications

ThumbnailsTitleAdditional NotesDatesDownloads

Inuit Five-year Strategic Plan for FASD 2010-2015

2010Download

Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD

Innuinnaqtun

2008Download

Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD

Nunavik

2008Download

Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD

Nunatsiavut

2008Download

Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD

Inuktitut

2008Download

Katujjiqatigiitsuni Sanngini: Working Together to Understand FASD

English

2008Download

Piaranut For Our Children: Quality Practices in Inuit ECD

Inuktitut

2008Download

Piaranut For Our Children: Quality Practices in Inuit ECD

English

2008Download

Before I Was Born – The Choices We Make During Pregnancy

Multilingual Publication

2001Download

The Choices We Make During Pregnancy Bilingual Poster

2001Download