Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a medical diagnosis for a set of physical, learning and behavioral symptoms of prenatal exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. The diagnosis takes into account a specific group of abnormalities of facial features, head size, growth retardation and central nervous system disorders including brain abnormalities unique to the syndrome.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) refer to a range of birth defects which can include distinctive facial abnormalities, growth deficits, central nervous system and brain problems mentioned above as well as a range of other problems.
A shocking 15 to 35 percent of all pregnancies are at risk for FASD. Unlike many people believe, you don’t have to be an alcoholic for your child to have FAS or FASD. Social drinking can cause both FAS and FASD. In some cases, alcohol consumed before the mother even knew she was pregnant can have an adverse affect on the fetus. In addition, the fetus can be affected any time during pregnancy right up until the weeks before birth. The newborn can also be affected during breast feeding.
FAS/FASD is a physical disability caused by changes on a molecular level. Alcohol molecules pass easily through the placenta to the unborn baby and through breast milk to the newborn. Those molecules kill brains cells, in some cases actually making the brain smaller than that of a normal baby. In addition, alcohol molecules can “scramble” the brain during its development causing disorganization in its wiring. It can radically alter the structure of the brain as well as change the brain’s chemistry.
Women who may be considering having a baby should stop all consumption of alcohol well before attempting to conceive. Any woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant should stop all alcohol consumption immediately to lower the risk of FAS/FASD. Alcohol should be avoided by breastfeeding mothers so as not to pass the alcohol to the baby in the breast milk.
Parents, particularly mothers of children who have been diagnosed with FAS/FASD often initially deal with feelings of grief and guilt. It’s important to talk with someone about those feelings and work through them in order to move forward and learn to deal with the child and his or her problems. Psychologists, doctors and counselors familiar with FAS/FASD and its impact on families can be consulted for coping strategies.
Some parents of FAS/FASD who have assumed their children have behavior problems may come to realize that it’s not that their child won’t behave; it’s that he can’t behave appropriately. They must learn to adapt to their children’s condition and treat their children differently than they did in the past.
The child with FAS/FASD may learn differently than an unaffected child. He may need visual or auditory clues or may need to be told the same thing many times before he learns. The child with FAS/FASD may not be able to make connections between his actions and their consequences. Or he may be unable to tune out background noise or be easily distracted by scents or sights. These problems may manifest as stubbornness, misbehavior or even anger. Understanding the way the child thinks will help the parent, teacher or care-giver help the child make the needed progress.
A child with FAS or FASD may act in a way that doesn’t seem age appropriate. This is because the child’s brain age may not be equal to his chronological age. A ten year old child with FAS or FASD may have the learning and behavior capacities of a four year old. The FAS/FASD child cannot process information, make connections, remember or follow instructions like an average child of the same age. Therefore, parents, teachers and child care professionals must learn to match teaching and disciplinary techniques to the child’s brain age for a better outcome.
Children with FAS/FASD can be a challenge for parents, child care providers, teachers and health care providers. A good understanding of the syndromes involved is vital to the well-being of the child.
Or you can search the net using the following search phrases: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
TRYING DIFFERENTLY RATHER THAN HARDER
(Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders)
By Diana Malbin, M.S.W.