Friday, September 14, 2007

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness

Last Sunday, while I was still traveling home from Disney World, it was Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. I didn't get a chance to blog about it that day, but it is an important topic, so I'll write about it today!
We all know that for children whose parents have alcohol problems, life can be pretty hard. When parents choose substances over the best interest of their children, the consequences are serious... children may deal with being abused or neglected by their parents, have to provide care for younger siblings as well as try to provide care for their parents, feel ashamed of their home life, and have trouble functioning in society because they've had to learn to function in a dysfunctional environment.
But for some children, the consequences of parental alcohol abuse begin before the children are even born!
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome used to be the only name for the developmental and physical delays caused by being exposed to alcohol while in the uterus. Eventually Fetal Alcohol Effect was also discovered. Now, the phrase Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is used as an umbrella term to include several different similar disorders.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the alcohol-related disorder that most people know a little about. A diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome means that explosure to alcohol has effected the child's growth, facial features, and brain tissue. Children with FAS often have a low birth weight, and they often look different from typical children as well. They may have smaller eye openings, flattened cheekbones, and an underdeveloped groove between the nose and the upper lip.
Besides these physical problems, children with FAS can have a lot of trouble functioning in the world. Many kids have trouble with coordination and motor skills, and don't seem to have the imagination, curiosity and social skills typical of other children. They may have learning disabilities and have trouble with problem solving. They often also have symptoms similar to those seen in children with ADHD.
A child may be diagnosed with Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome if only one or two of the three areas of FAS have effected her. For instance, if a child has the facial features of FAS, and her growth has been effected, but her brain seems to have remained undamaged, she may be diagnosed with PFAS.
If a child has been diagnosed with Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder or Alcohol-Related Birth Defects, it means that the child was exposed to alcohol as a fetus, and shows learning, social and behavioral problems associated with FAS, but his growth and facial features were not effected. This also used to be known as Fetal Alcohol Effect.
One scary thing about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is that, when a mother drinks during pregnancy, there is no way to tell how that drinking will effect the fetus. One mother may drink heavily throughout her pregnancy, and have a baby who turns out to be completely fine. Another mother may have just a few drinks, on different occasions, throughout her pregnancy, and have a child with some degree of Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effect. Sometimes mothers drink a lot of alcohol, before they find out that they are pregnant. When they find out the news, they may stop drinking, but sometimes damage has already been done to the fetus.
Parents who find themselves raising a child with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder have a big job ahead of them. These children, like all other children, need a lot of love and attention. But they also need parents who are willing and able to make sure their educational needs get met, possibly find physical therapy services for them, find counseling service for them, etc. Parents need to provide structered, low-key homes, and be able to set firm limits with their children. They may also need to accept their children's limitations as they get older. Every child with FAS is different and has different limitations. Some kids may be able to go on to college, while for others, graduating high school may be extremely difficult. Some children may be able to live on their own as adults, while others will continue to need some type of supervision. Because of their difficulty making judgements and controlling impulses, many kids with FAS get in different kinds of trouble throughout their lives, including trouble with the law. Parents of children with these disorders have to be ready for the possibility of seeing their kids through this type of predicament.
Because of all these needs, many children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders end up either being adopted or being in foster care.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are one of the only types of birth defects that are completely preventable. One way we can all help to prevent FASD is to educate others, including teenagers. If a woman is planning on becoming pregnant, she should stay away from alcohol, even before she finds out for sure that she is pregnant. And if a woman drinks alcohol as a habit and also has sex, she would be wise to use some sort of birth control. Drinking during pregnancy does not guarantee that a child will be effected, but it is a gamble... and staying away from alcohol during pregancy does guarantee that a child will not have FASD!

But please, do not take away a hopeless image about children with FASD. For a happier story about a child with FASD, please read about Liz.

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