Mentoring people with FASD

BY TERRENCE MCEACHERN,
LEADER-POST FEBRUARY 27, 2015

In order to help support people in Saskatchewan living with cognitive disabilities, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), mentorship training was offered in Regina on Thursday for the second year in a row.

“It’s a spectrum, so no one is the same. You could work with one individual living with FASD and then I could set you up to work with another one and you would be ‘These are not the same person’ because it is so different,” explained Katie Riley, marketing and events co-ordinator with the FASD Network of Saskatchewan Inc. FASD is a cognitive disability caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Although the disorder affects people differently, some common symptoms include memory issues, time management and sensory problems, Riley said.

Mentors serve as positive role models that help with community living and daily life skills such as budgeting finances and cooking.

Given that role, mentors need to be compassionate and understanding people that put the “disability before the person,” she said. Riley said an example of a sensory problem is the inability to have the sensation of feeling full; so someone might not know when to eat.

About 50 people attended the workshop at Travelodge Hotel and Conference Centre Regina. Funding for the mentorship is provided by the province’s $5.8-million annual Cognitive Disabilities Strategy.

In terms of the criminal justice system, Riley said that a problem is individuals with FASD might develop addiction issues that lead them in trouble. As well, individuals might not be diagnosed with FASD until they enter the justice system.

Once they are going through the court process, a concern is that once someone with FASD might have a difficult time understanding court-imposed requirements, such as the components of a probation order. To accommodate, the FASD Support Network has a case worker that attends court in Saskatoon to help individuals with the court system, said Riley.

With more than 30 years of experience working with people with cognitive disabilities, John Bell and Monty Brown of CLSD (Community Living Service Delivery) in Moose Jaw, attended the workshop to help network with other groups providing the same services.

Bell and Brown provide outreach services and mentor people with FASD both individually and in group settings. One client, notes Brown, would smoke as many cigarettes put in front of him if limits weren’t in place.

“A client that suffers with FASD sometimes doesn’t understand consequences to their actions, especially with some behaviours,” Bell said.

A key to steering people with FASD away from the criminal justice system is to find positive activities for clients, such as paid work, sports and volunteering. Another client volunteers in a sanctuary feeding distressed and recovering animals.

“You don’t know what that person needs until you start to build a relationship with them … And then, you and I decide as a group or as a team what is it that you need and want and how can we make it happen,” Bell said.

tmceachern@leaderpost.com
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