New clinic in Vernon hopes to catch missed FASD diagnoses among adults, including inmates - InfoNews

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New clinic in Vernon hopes to catch missed FASD diagnoses among adults, including inmates

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January 05, 2017 - 1:04 PM

VERNON - A new clinic in Vernon is filling a province-wide gap for adults struggling with undiagnosed Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a large portion of whom find themselves behind bars.

The non-profit Spec-Team Assessment Society is hoping to catch missed diagnoses and help turn things around for adults with FASD by opening the second assessment clinic in B.C., and the only one in the Interior.

“I was very surprised when I came to Vernon that there wasn’t an assessment opportunity for anyone over 19 in the Interior. They would have to travel to the coast,” executive director Bernadette O’Donnell says.

O’Donnell moved here from Alberta, a province she says has over 56 assessment centres for adults.

“There has to be an assessment clinic so individuals can access community supports and understand what is happening to them and why they behave the way they do,” she says.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder represents a group of conditions that can occur when a person’s mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Some individuals are assessed as children, but there are a variety of reasons why a diagnosis might get missed.

“Behaviours often get labeled as lazy or unmotivated or wasting their time. They get identified as behaviour problems or someone who has ADHD. That’s not the case for these individuals,” she says. “A lot of individuals drop out of school.”

If an individual is not diagnosed before they turn 19, they typically have to pay out of their own pocket for an assessment. At the Vernon clinic, O’Donnell says the cost can range from $3,500 to $5,600, although she is applying for grants to assist those unable to pay. Health care does not cover FASD assessments.

“They pay for assessments for autism and all kinds of other disabling conditions, but not FASD,” O’Donnell says. “There’s a space and time where they get services up to 19, and then there’s a gap. What happens to them now? If they haven’t been assessed or are undiagnosed, they’re out on their own, left to self-medicate.”

She says an estimated two to four per cent of the population is on the FASD spectrum, rising to roughly 60 to 75 per cent among incarcerated individuals. Most are undiagnosed, she says.

O’Donnell expects the clinic will receive referrals from community agencies, as well as Crown and defence lawyers.

“Sometimes the courts will ask for it as it has an impact on sentencing,” she says.

She’s also had preliminary conversations with the Okanagan Correctional Centre in Oliver about having assessment teams work with inmates.

“The individuals wouldn’t have to wait until they come out to be assessed,” she says. “Now, program planning can happen before they come out. That really significantly drops the rate of recidivism (re-offending),” she says. “If they have the right supports, they will not recommit.”

The clinic operates out of the People Place in Vernon, and mobile clinics will bring service to Kelowna and Kamloops.

There are five people on the assessment team, including a family physician, neuropsychologist, occupational therapist and social workers. Once a diagnosis is established, the real work begins.

“It’s all about what happens next. What are we going to do to help you make your life easier? Once they know (about their condition) they are empowered to move forward and make a change in their life,” O’Donnell says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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