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Adults in the N.W.T. can soon get diagnosed at a new FASD clinic

The N.W.T’s Health and Social Services Authority is launching the Adult Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Diagnostic Clinic, which is expected to open in February 2020.

Eric Wardell, 51, is considering getting assessed for FASD

Eric Wardell has never been formally diagnosed with FASD but family members have told him he was prenatally exposed to alcohol. Now adults like Wardell, will soon have the option to get a clinical FASD diagnosis without leaving the N.W.T. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Eric Wardell has long suspected he has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), but he's never been diagnosed.

The 51-year-old who lives in Yellowknife says he's been told by relatives his mother drank when he was in​​ the womb.

"Nobody understands me, nobody thinks I'm smart enough," said Wardell. 

"I know it's there ... I would like to hear it from someone else's perspective. 'This is what we know about it Eric,'" he said about getting formally diagnosed.

Now adults like Wardell, will soon have the option to get a clinical FASD diagnosis without leaving the Northwest Territories. The N.W.T's Health and Social Services Authority is launching the Adult FASD Diagnostic Clinic, which is expected to open in Yellowknife in February.

For many decades, Wardell said he cycled in and out of jail and battled addictions. 

"I got ripped off in life. I didn't ask for this," said Wardell, who still struggles with managing his attention span and impulses, but he's learning to adapt. 

He said getting a formal diagnosis could help him.

"I would love to see that."

'Missed a huge population': Authority

FASD is a lifelong disability caused by exposure to alcohol before a baby is born.

An FASD diagnostic clinic and support program for youth 17 years old and younger has been offered in Yellowknife for a decade, diagnosing roughly 100 people.

Now, the Health Authority says it's important to help adults, too.

"We've missed a huge population of people," said Shawna Pound, the territory's adult FASD program co-ordinator.

Pound is the adult FASD program co-ordinator for the Health Authority. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The territorial government has never studied how many people have FASD in the N.W.T.

In Canada, the rate is about four per cent of the population, according to the Canada FASD Research Network. Rates are even higher in vulnerable populations.

The N.W.T.'s new adult clinic, which will operate on a budget of $57,000 annually, aims to complete10 to 12 assessments next year.

Any adult now [who] is not receiving support — I can imagine they would be struggling immensely,​​​​​​.- Tammy Roberts, Caregiver to youth with FASD

Referrals can come from Health and Social Services, government and non-government workers, family, even self-referrals.

The diagnostic team includes neuropsychologists, speech and occupational therapists and a physician.

Confirmation of the mother's use of alcohol is key for getting accepted into the clinic. Pound explained that this information can come from the mother, other relatives, or medical and court records.

The adult FASD assessment, which takes about three days, is confidential and examines the brain's ten domains, including attention, memory, and reasoning. (Submitted by NTHSSA)

The assessment, which takes about three days, is confidential and examines the brain's 10 domains, including attention, memory, and reasoning. 

Clients leave with a detailed picture of how their brain functions and tailored recommendations on how to best support them in their community.

Making a difference

As a caregiver of young people with FASD, Yellowknife's Tammy Roberts sees the difference getting an FASD diagnosis can make.

"Being able to see the results from the testing as a caregiver is extremely important," said Roberts who has fostered many young people with FASD over the last 30 years.

Yellowknife foster parent Tammy Roberts has cared for many youth and children with FASD over the last 30 years. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"If I see the results from this showing that they have huge deficits in their memory, I'm going to put tools in place and supports in place ... instead of constantly struggling to get them to remember things," said Roberts.

"Any adult now [who] is not receiving support — I can imagine they would be struggling immensely," she said.

Nearly a dozen people have been referred to the adult diagnostic clinic since September. The Health Authority isn't clear on how big the demand for the clinic will be.

"We are trying to make people as comfortable as possible," said Pound, the adult FASD program co-ordinator. 

"People seem to be very motivated to to find out why things might be a little bit more difficult for them in different areas," she said.

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