A trailblazer in FASD research, Audrey McFarlane hopes AOE honour shines light on disability

Audrey McFarlane received the news while in her garden, and she didn’t quite believe that Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani was really on the other end.

“I initially thought that maybe it was a joke my friends were playing on me, but to realize that it really was the Lieutenant Governor and she was telling me that I was going to receive this honour, that was so exciting. A bit shocking. Overwhelming,” said McFarlane. 

A Cold Laker through and through, the Government of Alberta announced eight recipients for the Alberta Order of Excellence, with McFarlane being nominated by one of her peers, and granted the honour from the AOE committee.

The Order of Excellence is the highest honour a civilian can receive in Alberta.

Her domain over the years has been in the development of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder resources.

Audrey’s sister was born with Down Syndrome, which spurred her want of working with those with disabilities.

After a groundswell of work and help from the community, the Lakeland Centre for FASD was created, the first FASD diagnostic clinic in Alberta.

Recognized for their pivotal supports in a rural area, it’s become well-known across the country for its outreach services to families and prevention techniques. The second floor Women’s Recovery Center is the only one of its kind in Canada, she said. 

“In the FASD world, if you go across Canada, and you say you work at the Lakeland Centre for FASD, people are all excited and recognize the leadership that that we’ve been able to show here,” she said. 

“I’m always excited when we get to shine any sort of general population light on this subject. It’s been a disability that’s been largely unrecognized and ignored by many governments. So it’s really nice to be able to receive the award for this work that’s been recognized. It is important work that we’re doing.” 

While no longer at the Lakeland Centre, McFarlane is the executive director of the Canada FASD Research Network.

CanFASD is the first national research body for this disorder, and brings together many scientific viewpoints, in order to leverage change in their partners, including the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“We put forward a bill in the Senate to have a national strategy for FASD. And if that bill gets supported, it will make it law that the Health Canada will have to have a national strategy. Although Canada is a major leader in the work that it’s doing and in the research, we are falling behind some other countries who are using all our great experiences and information to push forward nationally,” said McFarlane. 

“Our organization FASD is also hosting a first National Conference on FASD in Saskatoon in November. We’re doing it in partnership with the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Alberta. And so that’ll be a first and we already are well on our way to achieve our goal of 500 people.” 

Before that conference, McFarlane will receive the Order of Excellence at the investiture ceremony in October, among former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

She thanks her family for being there at her side, despite being quite busy at times with this work.

She hopes this continues to shine an important light on the destructive and complex nature of FASD.

“I hope all the people that have done the really hard work on the ground and have supported the Lakeland Centre, and me as a person to be able to do this work, that they see themselves reflected in this award as well. I’m accepting it on everyone’s behalf. Because you never do these things alone.”

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