As discussed previously, stigma, stereotypes, and misconceptions regarding FASD are pervasive and harmful. There is significant shame and blame that is often intertwined with conversations about FASD because drinking alcohol during pregnancy is often conceptualized as intentional harm. We need to move away from these judgmental attitudes toward discussing FASD in the same way that we think about other disabilities. As mental health professionals who provide services to marginalized and vulnerable communities, examining and changing our biases and assumptions are imperative. Collectively we need to challenge our own understandings and implicit biases about what it means to be “normal” and accept all individuals as unique1. This shift in mindset will help in moving away from long-held attitudes of fear, pity, and condescension toward difference that has been traditionally prominent in disability supports and conversations1. This section will discuss:
A key practice for mental health professionals is self-reflection. The following questions have been prepared to support this process around FASD stigma, misconceptions, and beliefs. The following questions were adapted based on Practitioner Behaviours and Attitudes Self-Assessment. The questions are meant to offer a process for reflective practice and consideration of alternatives to commonly held beliefs.
On a scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5), what is your belief about the following statements
Please note that your answers are anonymous and will not be used for any purpose and will not be reviewed. All data pertaining to this section of the website (i.e., analytics) will be deleted on a regular basis.
- How did it feel answering these questions? Were any of them more difficult to answer? If so, why?
- Do you believe that people with neurodevelopmental disabilities can benefit from mental health supports? Why or why not?
Addressing Our Biases
Beyond recognizing biases or misconceptions we may have it is important to actively educate ourselves and take steps to address them. There are many activities and reflections that can be used to work on our biases and misunderstandings, and it is also important to actively invite people with FASD into our practice, accepting and adapting practices for clients with FASD.
Following are some examples of how we can work to address our biases regarding FASD and disabilities in general:
|Thinking About the Content We Consume
|The messages and people we listen to and consume content from can have an impact on our judgements and ideas. Critically evaluating information, finding evidence-based information, and seeking out content from people most impacted by stigma/bias can help expand our understandings.
|Changing Our Language
|Being intentional and conscious about the language we use can help us to shift our judgements and misconceptions over time.
|Shifting Perspective on Disability
|Historically, disability has been perceived and viewed from a medicalized and deficit-oriented lens. Gaining an understanding of how societal structures and systems create barriers for people with disabilities can help to shift our perspectives. This can help us move from seeing people with disabilities as “the problem” toward recognizing the problem as society’s lack of accommodations and supports for all.
|To consider our own identity, social positionings, and understandings, reflecting on our practices and knowledge are imperative. Examples of how to engage in reflective practice may include: discussions with a mentor, journaling, and reading. Find what works for you!
Assessing Comfort/Preparedness for Supporting Individuals with FASD
Beyond assessing our biases and how our opinions have been shaped by common discourses, it is also important to understand our own levels of comfort and knowledge regarding this topic. Staying aware of these potential biases will allow us to recognize any gaps in our understanding and what information we may need to feel confident and prepared to support people with FASD.
The following questions can help to assess your comfort and knowledge in providing specific services and support to individuals and families affected by FASD. The following survey was adapted based on the Staff Survey from Best Practices for FASD Delivery.
On a scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5) please rate your level of agreement with the following statements
We understand that it can take time and experience to build comfort in these areas and the following resources may help to support your learning and comfort regarding FASD, in addition to continuing to explore the modules in this resource guide.
- More information on the basics of FASD: CanFASD: Basic Information about FASD
- A list of significant FASD research from 2016-present click here: CanFASD: Top Articles
- A short list of signs of FASD: FASD: Signs and Symptoms
- A list of diagnostic services across Canada: FASD Diagnostic Clinics Across Canada
- See section 5: Screening and Diagnosis
- See section 7: Strengths-Based Approach
Who is the Expert?
When engaged in a helping role, it can be easy to slip into seeing ourselves as the experts, as this is a dynamic that has been historically prominent in therapeutic and counselling environments. Although we do have information and skills to support others, this outlook can perpetuate further harm as it situates the client as a “problem” in need of fixing. Shifting our perspective to seeing individuals as the experts of their experience, meeting people where they are at, and taking genuine care of our clients will build a collaborative relationship where positive support can occur.
“They’ll [person with FASD] be your greatest teacher in how to support them” ~ Angel’s Story
Some things to consider regarding expert dynamics and how to cocreate a meaningful supportive space:
- Recognize brain-based differences.
- Modify practices and redefine/co-define success.
- Meeting people where they are and co-create realistic goals.
As mental health professionals it is our responsibility to engage in reflective practice and consider the ways our learned and sometime unconscious attitudes, assumptions, stigma, and implicit biases are impacting our thinking and behaviour. This awareness and shift in perspective will allow us to be more accepting of everyone’s strengths, challenges, and needs.