FASD STIGMA: Barrier to Assistance and Intervention

Many individuals in the public hold a strong stigma toward FASD mothers, in part because as a diagnostic term, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is named after the cause and nature of the condition. This stigma contributes to the belief that substance use during pregnancy is an uncaring choice, ignoring the contributing factors of substance use, trauma, interpersonal violence, stress, poverty, isolation, or simply not knowing they were pregnant.

Recent evidence shows that because of the stigmatization and fear that often accompanies an FASD diagnosis, health care and social services providers may misdiagnose or fail to diagnose FASD, which can further impede individuals from receiving the assistance and intervention they need. Stigma is considered one of the biggest barriers to women accessing, and practitioners providing, care for pregnant women who use substances.

At the same time an individual’s choice to disclose their FASD diagnosis is often based on the discrimination they expect to receive. Revealing a diagnosis can often open access to necessary supports in school and work settings. However, the disclosure can also lead to stigma from co-workers, classmates, teachers, and admin, as well as family and community.

A lack of training in substance use counseling for health practitioners, limits understanding of why a woman may drink in pregnancy and instead perpetuates the unfounded and harmful notion that women are intentionally harming their children.