Awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has increased in recent years, but there's still more public education that needs to be done, according to Christiane Hirt.
The co-ordinator for the Structure for Success program at Northern Health said members of the public who have approached booths set up this week at Pine Centre Mall and Wal-Mart have been surprised about what they don't know about the condition, which is believed to affect about nine out of every 1,000 births in Canada.
"People were shocked, even people who were working in the field," Hirt said.
The symptoms of FASD show up differently in each person, but those with the condition often have difficulty with planning, memory and being able to follow multi-sequence tasks.
Many people were stunned to find out that the condition is not considered to be 100 per cent preventable because woman don't know when they're pregnant right away and drinking alcohol at any point during the nine months can cause the disorder.
Others were surprised when they were unable to pick out which people had the disorder when presented with a photo lineup. Hirt said that's because fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an invisible disability since not everyone with the condition has physical markers.
More alarmingly there's still a perception among some that limited alcohol consumption during pregnancy is acceptable.
"Often there's that old belief system that one beer won't hurt," Hirt said. "It's actually now a proven fact that the alcohol level in the fetus is three times as high as it is in the mother."
Diagnosing children with the condition early is important, according to Hirt, because it allows people to access community support programs, but it can be a challenge because to confirm a diagnosis the mother must admit to alcohol use during pregnancy.
"Often they don't reach out and ask for help," she said. "If you cause a disability in your child it takes a lot to come forward and [admit it] and then go forward for a diagnosis."
The booths at local retailers this week were part of the lead up to Monday's International FASD Day. Held at 9:09 a.m. on the ninth day of the ninth month to symbolize the importance of each month of pregnancy, the event aims to emphasize the need for support for those with the disorder while at the same time work to prevent future FASD cases.
This year, the annual pregnant pause will take place at the Child Development Centre. Those interested are asked to gather around 9 a.m. where they will be given a balloon they can put under their shirt to symbolize pregnancy. At 9:09 a.m. the balloons will be released.
On Monday evening, the Street Spirit theatre group will perform a play specifically written for this year's FASD Day. Intended for an adult audience, the play focuses on the struggles of a teenage parent and aims to build empathy and education about the condition.
Doors open for the performance at 7 p.m. at CNC room 1-306 and donations will be accepted.