When we hear about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) we often hear about the challenges and negative impacts on society. While there are challenges with this diagnosis, there are also plenty of positive traits and strengths to counteract the negatives that are more often discussed.
When thinking about individuals who are living with FASD, we need to take a people-first approach. There’s a great deal to learn about FASD. No diagnosis is the same; each individual experiences FASD differently and every individual can still live a full, robust life in the community with the right supports. Sound familiar? This is inherently true for every single human experience on this planet. A diagnosis shouldn’t create an “us” vs “them” narrative that builds walls between us. What it should do is encourage empathy and compassion.
Even the most neurotypical people benefit from focusing on their individual strengths. We talk about “math people” or being a “people person” all the time. We classify ourselves and others as introverts and extroverts and people who make decisions based on their hearts or their heads. Neurodivergent individuals have all the same strengths, desires, wants and needs as anyone else. They also require supports from their community, friends, and family just like the rest of us.
Take JB, for example. This participant’s personal neurological FASD strengths come out when routine, order, and a fixed process are in place. He also thrives when incorporating movement into an activity. The participant applies these strengths to fixing bikes and shows significant skill in doing so. He has expanded his skills, using them to support the community by fixing broken walkers for people who are unable to access funding for walking aids. JB gets assistance sourcing the walkers, fixes them on his own time and then gives them back to be distributed in the community. In this way, he utilizes his neurological strengths to contribute uniquely to his community.
And then there’s KR – This participant’s social strengths allow her to be focused on those around her and sensitive to the needs of others. Utilizing this strength, she has supported occupational therapy students in understanding the strengths and challenges she has observed in herself and others with FASD. KR benefits from the use of organizational supports and pre-planning around sequences to support her cognition and prevent rushing, which can lead to feelings of frustration and make her more likely to make mistakes. As a result, the participant chose to teach the students through a pre-planned presentation using posters; this allowed her to best utilize her FASD strengths. In this way, KR is able to coach future occupational therapists on how to approach clients in her situation in a client-centred way that is more likely to lead to therapeutic success.
For other individuals learning to manage their FASD, starting with strengths has been a pathway through. One participant, JR, is skilled at repairing bikes but prefers to keep to himself and limit social situations. JR uses his strengths to contribute to his community by fixing bikes for Ukrainian refugees in his home.
Then there is JW – This participant is strongest in an environment that has limited distractions, where information is presented 1-2 steps at a time and ideally is in a visual format. He also benefits from flexibility in time scheduling and is very creative. For him, a strength-focused approach is to channel this creativity through cooking. He frequently creates new flavours and recipes to share with the residents of his community.
Ultimately, if you boil these strengths and needs down, many of us can relate. We too benefit from routine, consistency and environments with few distractions. While many of us face a variety of challenges in our lives, in our strengths we are alike. Central to this are the supports in the community that we all need to live a full and prosperous life. People with a diagnosis of FASD often face stigma when, in actuality, we are far more similar than we may think. Some of us just need a little more support than others or different support to truly let our strengths shine.
We invite you to learn more about FASD over the month of September and beyond. Let’s come together to create an equitable space together and foster an understanding of the challenges and strengths that our fellow community members live with.