Language to avoid when talking about FASD

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With the recent celebration of FASD day on September 9th, society is being exposed to more information on FASD. It is important to be aware of the language we use when speaking about FASD, in order to prevent perpetuating misinformed beliefs.

One such phrase that is often used to describe FASD is that FASD is “100% preventable”. This statement is tremendously stigmatizing, and does not account for the unique circumstances that may lead a mother to drink during pregnancy. A women experiencing addiction for instance, receives immense judgement from society as a whole, and often from those closest to her, including physicians and service providers whose role is to provide help to the individual. Being made to feel shameful about their substance use, women often do not feel comfortable coming forward and seeking help for their addiction, and therefore feel that if their child has FASD, it is ‘100%’ their fault. In cases where women do seek help for their substance use, they may be faced with misinformation, or lack of action from healthcare professionals. Other factors that “100% preventable” fails to acknowledge are abusive relationships in which women are threatened or forced to consume alcohol (even while pregnant), or potential misinformation from health care providers who do not stress the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

Language around FASD still includes “no cure for FASD”, “afflicted with FASD”, “irreversible damage” or “disabling condition” which stigmatize mothers who consumed alcohol and also individuals with FASD, further preventing access to proper supports and services. While FASD is a lifelong disability, research has shown that early diagnosis and proper interventions can significantly improve outcomes for these individuals. It is important to adopt clear and concise language that can reduce ambiguities around FASD and the spread of misinformation, which is why CanFASD created evidence-based messaging guidelines to inform the public on appropriate ways to talk about FASD. Along with this is a standard definition of FASD to eliminate stigmatizing language and outdated information included in previous definitions.

Language is a powerful tool that is dynamic, and constantly changing, and it is important that society is up to date with the current language around FASD, so as to not oversimplify a very complex issue. In turn, appropriate language will help to release judgement from mothers and their children with FASD, so they can access proper supports and resources.

Check out CanFASD Issue Papers on stigma around FASD:

  1. Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Experiences of Stigma
  2. Stigma, Discrimination and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

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