What exactly are developmental stressors?
There are countless reasons people develop uniquely, influencing our personalities, learning styles, and more. That is what makes us all so wonderfully diverse!
At the Asante Centre, we are passionate about addressing stressors that can affect development during the periods of pre-conception, pregnancy, and early childhood. Stressors impact brain and physical development across the lifespan, so learning about them is critical to getting the right kinds of care that lead to success.
Developmental stressors may include:
- Significant parental stress;
- Alcohol and other drug exposures (mother or father);
- Medical concerns, certain medications, or accidents;
- Chronic or severe trauma (e.g. abuse, neglect, witness to violence, loss of a caregiver, medical crisis, natural disaster, multiple home placements, etc.);
- Genetic concerns;
- And more.
We work alongside families to prevent stressors, as well as support those of us who have experienced stressors and live with developmental diversities as a result.
Some developmental stressors can cause diagnosable conditions, others do not (at least according to current diagnostic criterion). However, all become part of our story and contribute to our uniqueness. Diagnosable conditions we specialize in include fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and neurodevelopmental disorder related to a complex range of stressors.
How common are developmental stressors?
No one really knows, but we know they are common. For example, we are sure that:
- 1 - 2% of Canadians have autism spectrum disorder;
- 2 - 3% of Canadians have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder;
- 10% of Americans have experienced childhood trauma;
- 80% of Canadians use alcohol;
- 40% of Canadians use marijuana or other drugs; and,
- 50% of pregnancies are unplanned.
What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term that describes a specific level of developmental diversity a person may experience due to prenatal alcohol exposure. When a woman is pregnant, anything that she eats or drinks passes into her bloodstream and influences the way the baby is developing. Fruits and vegetables, for example, provide critical nutrition for the fetus. Alcohol and other drugs, however, are teratogenic (i.e. toxic) to fetal development.
Prenatal alcohol exposure effects every person differently. The timing and amount of alcohol use makes a difference, as does the baby's genetics, the parents' genetics, and factors such as prenatal stress, nutrition, exercise, medications, and more. Everyone with FASD has been prenatally exposed to alcohol, but not every person who is prenatally exposed to alcohol has a diagnosable disability.
While there are some common patterns of abilities and needs for people with FASD, each person is highly unique. It is critical to get to know each individual, and how prenatal alcohol exposure and other developmental influences have become part of his or her story.
Some important reminders around FASD include:
- A person with FASD is a person, first. Each individual has strengths and abilities, and will benefit from expectations and learning approaches that match his or her unique style.
- The brain is the most complex and rapidly developing part of our body, and the only organ to develop through the entire pregnancy. No matter at what point there is alcohol exposure, the brain will be impacted.
- FASD crosses all cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, and educational boundaries. Any community where there is pregnancy and alcohol consumption, there is a risk of FASD.
- There are many reasons why a woman may drink alcohol in pregnancy, including unplanned pregnancy, coping with trauma, pressure from her partner, friends or family, lack of awareness, or misinformation from healthcare professionals. It is never intentional to harm her child; we all do the best we can with the internal and external resources available to use.
FASD is far more common than many people in the community believe. The rates of unplanned pregnancy and the high social acceptance of alcohol use in itself put many families at risk. The Asante Centre and many other allies are passionate about raising awareness around prenatal alcohol exposure, and how to compassionately support people who are impacted.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or support someone who is, please make sure you have up-to-date information on the risks of alcohol use in pregnancy. A healthcare professional or pregnancy support program can help you abstain from or reduce your alcohol use.
What are the impacts and considerations around developmental stressors?
When we assess for FASD or other neurodevelopmental disorders, our team follows Canadian standards which evaluate 10 different areas of functioning. They include:
- Neuroanatomy/neurophysiology (refers to differences in physical brain structure, such as an abnormal MRI or seizure disorder);
- Motor skills (includes gross and fine motor skills);
- Cognition (e.g. IQ and processing speed);
- Language (focuses on social communication and verbal reasoning);
- Academic achievement (e.g. core competencies in math, reading/writing, and various learning disabilities);
- Memory (e.g. differences in long or short-term, visual and auditory);
- Attention (e.g. distractability);
- Executive function (high-level reasoning skills, including impulse control and hyperactivity);
- Affect regulation (specifically reflects anxiety, depressive, and mood dysregulation disorders); and,
- Adaptive behaviour, social skills or social communication (e.g. daily living skills).
The 10 domains combined offer a comprehensive perspective on how the person may be experiencing the world around them, though each individual domain can be influenced by a range of factors. The assessment team spends a lot of time learning about the person through their own evaluations, as well as reading past records on the person's development, and conversations with the person and their family.
Developmental diversities influence how a person engages with all aspects of life, including education, employment, parenting, and more. With the right strategies in the right time, and with a good understanding of our own needs and abilities, each of us with developmental diversities is capable of exceeding expectations.
What can we do to capture hope, and enliven possibilities?
COMMIT TO UNDERSTAND
Individuals and families with developmental diversities continuously break barriers and show the world new possibilities.
Many people articulate that better understanding their needs and abilities, including taking a journey to understand the diagnosis and who they are in relation to and out of relation to it, go a long way towards positive outcomes.
We need to break down stigmas, and have conversations. Listening to the person about their own gifts, goals, and needs, is always the best strategy.