Through the McCusker Internship Program at UWA I was fortunate enough to be placed with NOFASD Australia – the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. I only had limited awareness of what FASD was, and nothing could prepare me for the extensive learning I was immersed in throughout my short time at the organisation. I have not only learnt about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and its effects but have also become more aware of the stigmatisation linked with the issue and how many individuals and families it truly affects.
In the short few weeks of this Internship program, it became apparent the immense work of each individual working for this cause. Tireless effort, thoughtful care and abundant knowledge is showcased in each member within all their work, ensuring change and benefits are created each day through proactivity. I have witnessed first-hand the shock waves that their work produces to individuals in our community all the way to legislation bodies in Canberra and beyond. This has made me aware of the importance of action whether this be small or large, it all helps and makes a difference. It became obvious to me very quickly, the immense level of work that the organisation does and how many lives they change and affect every day.
I naively assumed this issue might only affect those who suffer with addiction or drink excessively, how I was wrong!
I quickly formed the understanding that this issue affects individuals across various demographics and communities. There can be up to 12 weeks or more where a pregnancy can go undetected, leaving around 84 days where alcohol can be consumed in small or large amounts, possibly harming the fetus. This shows that FASD is an issue that is relevant to technically all women thinking about, or wanting to start, a family.
There are so many misconceptions surrounding alcohol and its use, particularly for young adolescents. A significant learning was the idea of binge drinking, which is the consumption of 4 standard drinks. A very easy target to reach for a 20 something year old going out for “dinner and drinks”. This triggered ideas that centred some of my work over the weeks spent at the organisation on the importance of prevention amongst young people. Perhaps the larger issue is to ensure prevention strategies amongst younger demographics on the dangers of binge drinking on overall health and future fertility issues. By raising awareness of FASD to young people, we can hope that when they do go through or choose pregnancy, they will think back to the alarming statistics and knowledge they absorbed and choose to not drink in order to support the overall health and wellbeing of their future children.
While FASD exists wherever alcohol is consumed, so is not exclusive to any particular community, when engaging with Indigenous communities NOFASD ensures that resources and support are provided in a sensitive and culturally appropriate manner, with the endorsement of elders in the community. NOFASD also engages actively across Australia with sectors that are key to raising awareness and understanding of FASD including education, disability, health, and justice.
During the internship, I created banners that will be featured in important meetings and workshops with different participants from these sectors. The banners focused on important aspects from each sector, that will help contribute to an overall wider knowledge of FASD. The work carried out by NOFASD interplays with various areas of society such as justice, disability and cultural sectors. The organisation aims to address complex issues for the betterment of individuals and society as a whole. It not only provides resources and vital information but also creates close-knit communities who share common values. I was privileged to witness this first-hand, as I saw the important relationships formed with their members and followers, but also the advocacy relationships they have formed with justice and governmental bodies.
I feel extremely grateful and privileged to have learnt so much about FASD throughout my internship. My knowledge of this disorder continues to grow as my interest continues. I have had numerous conversations within my friendship groups about their own experiences with alcohol, and also my parents (who are both high school teachers) about how this disorder requires greater education.
I have discovered that this issue is much larger than a simple diagnosis, but instead a much more complex issue that touches on significant cultural and social issues.
Blog written by Molly Haskett, former participant of the McCusker Internship Program at the University of Western Australia.