Trainee Series – Going Beyond Labels and Recognizing the Strengths of Individuals with FASD

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Written by Jasmine Kowalewski, a member of the CanFASD Trainee Program 2023 cohort

Through the CanFASD training program, I have come to appreciate the importance of taking a strength-based approach to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). While it is essential to recognize and address the challenges associated with FASD, a strength-based approach has allowed me to consider the unique strengths and positive characteristics of each individual with the disability.

Historically, research efforts on FASD have been deficit-based (rather than strength-based). As a result of this deficit-based approach, we now know the impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure and how these associated challenges are impacted by other psychosocial and environmental factors. Overall, this body of research has resulted in individuals diagnosed with FASD feeling a sense of validation and has also assisted in the advocacy for further FASD services.

The impacts of a deficit-based view of FASD

Although it is important to recognize the challenges experienced by individuals with FASD, the sole focus on deficits can be detrimental. For example,  a deficit-based view of FASD can lead to harsh and stigmatizing perceptions, leaving those with FASD with feelings of shame and victimization. Other negative impacts can include:

  • Damage to self-esteem, positive identity development, self-efficacy, and self-determination
  • The public perceiving individuals with FASD as a burden, criminal, or pitiful
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Increased caregiver and family stress
  • Negative outcomes (e.g., social exclusion and employment discrimination)
  • Decreased incentives for organization to develop or fund programs

Why is it important to shift to a strengths-based narrative?

As a result of the above negative impacts, it is crucial to go beyond the label of FASD and shift towards a more strength-based narrative that recognizes the potential for growth and resilience in individuals with FASD.

By adopting a strength-based approach we acknowledge that individuals with FASD can:

Adopting a strengths-based approach can have numerous benefits for both individuals with FASD and their caregivers. For individuals with FASD, promoting strengths can enhance competence, well-being, and resiliency. This approach can lead to a range of positive outcomes, including increased academic functioning, smoother life transitions, and higher quality of life. For caregivers, they can shift their focus to the positives of their loved ones, which can help them to become more hopeful, experience less stress, and adopt healthier coping mechanisms for their families.

The transformative power of a strengths-based approach

On a larger scale, society as a whole can benefit from the adoption of a strength-based approach as it will promote a more positive narrative about FASD. For example, this approach could help reduce stigma and increase community support, which could ultimately lead to greater well-being for individuals with FASD and their families.

Overall, the CanFASD training program has allowed me to increase my knowledge and awareness on the topic of FASD. However, my main takeaway from the program is the transformative power of a strength-based approach and recognizing the unique strengths and positive characteristic of each individual with FASD. Through this approach, I am hopeful we can better assist individuals with FASD to realize their full potential and achieve greater success and happiness in life.

For more information on a strength-based approach to FASD, please refer to the following resources:

Jasmine is a Master’s student in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on a range of different topics from neuropsychology to systemic racism. Recently, Jasmine’s projects have primarily involved Indigenous research and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder research. In addition, Jasmine is a dedicated volunteer and advocate for social justice, having worked with local organizations to promote opportunities for underprivileged youth. Her commitment to evidence-based interventions and compassion for marginalized communities make her a valuable asset to the community.

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