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National Organisation for FASD Australia

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On Wednesday 13th December 2023, NOFASD’s founder Sue Miers AM, was honoured by The University of Western Australia when an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree was conferred on Sue in recognition of her contribution over many years to advocacy for FASD, community education, and reconciliation.

Sue also delivered the Graduation Address at this ceremony and we thought her reflections and words of wisdom should be shared beyond this event.

Graduands – congratulations! I am delighted to be standing here today, to acknowledge you and to celebrate both your achievements and your potential.  There is something powerful and joyful about being in the midst of you all, as a group celebrating a significant turning point in your lives, surrounded by your loved ones and peers.

I am truly honored and extremely humbled to be here as the recipient of this Honorary Degree from the UWA, such a highly ranked educational institution that sits on the sacred soil of the Noongar people for whom I have the deepest respect for their Elders past, present and emerging. I honour them and all other first peoples of our country, for their deep-rooted knowledge, wisdom and resilience.

What brings me here today was my discovery more than 25 years ago of a life-long disability caused by a pregnancy being exposed to alcohol, a disability, not then widely recognised in Australia. My experience with our adopted daughter has sadly given me firsthand insights into the systemic injustice and layers of stigma which led to lack of assistance, lack of recognition and lack of support for this disability.

I think it may surprise you to hear that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (or FASD) is the leading cause of preventable disability in the world and that the impact on a developing baby is lifelong. Evidence suggests that 1 in 13 pregnancies where there has been a level of alcohol exposure, will result in FASD. As a spectrum there is a wide range of impacts, and such is the harm caused by alcohol exposure, that overseas research points to severely reduced life expectancy and to many devastating secondary conditions.

For such an impactful disability, it is disappointing to note that there is still only one accredited course in Australia devoted to it, and it is found here at UWA , under the competent leadership of Professor Carmela Pestell, who I am delighted to say is with us today. So, I offer thanks to the University, for their foresight in adding this course to the University’s curriculum and also to Carmela for her professional dedication, which she combines with respect and compassionate listening to those with lived experience.

Professor Elizabeth Elliott, Professor Carmela Pestell, Sue Miers and Professor Carol Bower.

I’ve interpreted my task today as my chance to share some life lessons I have learned from what became my long but accidental career.

Firstly, don’t be afraid of being passionate.  In 1999 when I wrote and disseminated a report highlighting my inability to find support from FASD informed professionals to help my daughter, I naively thought that would be the beginning of a national understanding and acceptance by all the relevant authorities and professionals, that FASD was something that needed to be urgently addressed in Australia. It was the general lack of response to that report, that was one of the main contributing factors that motivated my passion to establish what became NOFASD Australia. So, hold onto your passion and don’t let rejection thwart your confidence.  It is my passion that has kept me going. And as the Dalai Lama once said if you believe you are too small to make a difference you haven’t been to bed with a mosquito.

Secondly, if you believe something is wrong and needs to be changed, find your own voice because your voice is important. As I developed an in-depth knowledge of FASD, my lack of higher education qualifications initially discouraged me from speaking up to people with seemingly recognised qualifications in the field. But, over time I learned to speak up, firmly but respectfully, and occasionally biting my tongue in the face of condescension. However, I believe this strategy led to more listeners and more learners.

The third lesson relates to valuing multidisciplinary work and partnerships. In my work, leading me here to this podium, the knowledge of many people and professions working collaboratively has considerably advanced the cause. I encourage you to revel in your expertise as it develops, but also to help break down silos by valuing other professional roles and expertise.

In closing, I am here as an individual, but the talented CEO, staff and an incredible Board at NOFASD Australia have advanced the organisation’s cause and we owe gratitude to the support we have had from the Alcohol and Other Drugs branch of the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Most importantly and with gratitude I acknowledge Tony, my husband of 52 years. He has shared this journey with me, through the ups and downs, the challenges and the breakthroughs, the heartaches and the joys.

So…my final life lesson. Surround yourself with good people, in both your work and personal life, and you’ll find the difficulties easier to bear and the achievements sweeter to celebrate…

and I’ll leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein that motivated me on my journey:
“Persistence is the most powerful force on earth, it can move mountains.”

Thank you.

Sue and her husband, Tony, celebrate with members of the NOFASD Australia team at the UWA Graduation Ceremony.

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