Spotlight On: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day was founded on 9/9/99, to remind us that the 9 months of pregnancy have the potential to shape the course of a lifetime, for both a developing child and their family. It’s encouraging to know that 9 out of 10 women report they abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.  Resultingly, 19 out of 20 infants are now born free of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Only 50 years have passed since the first medical diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was made in the early 1970’s.  It’s still very important that we continue to be aware of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. September the 9th, FASD Awareness Day, reminds us of how beneficial early diagnosis of FASD can be, and why it’s crucial to avoid alcohol – of any kind, in any amount – as soon as possible if you’re pregnant or there’s any chance you may be. 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder is a highly preventable condition that can affect an unborn child’s physical, intellectual, and behavioral health, well into adulthood.

Exposure most often occurs early in the first trimester, when a mother-to-be may not yet be aware that she is pregnant.  In some cases, she may not know that alcohol passes from her bloodstream through the umbilical cord to her developing child, where it can do lasting harm. Less frequently, a pregnant woman who is alcohol-dependent may be unable to stop drinking on her own.  All of these realities make Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness (and low-barrier alcohol use treatment) especially vital for women of childbearing age.

Whether it’s occasional ‘binge’ drinking (defined as 4 or more drinks over the course of a couple of hours), or more frequent alcohol consumption, drinking while pregnant is directly tied to alcohol-related birth defects.  It’s important to realize that beer and wine are no exception. 

There really is no safe amount or safe type of alcohol when it comes to the rapidly developing fetus in the womb. For a woman who has consumed alcohol while pregnant, however, it’s never too late to stop drinking, to improve her unborn child’s health and wellness.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is, as implied, a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe symptoms. Children born with FASD may have physical abnormalities in bone structure, impaired heart or kidney function, deficits in hearing, vision or communication, and poor physical coordination.

It’s common for those whose mothers drank during pregnancy to have difficulties in school as children, and challenges with employment as adults. 

Special education services may be required to help students living with FASD navigate potential learning disorders.  Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders may manifest as challenges with memory, attention, problem solving, mathematical reasoning, planning, and processing of information.  Impaired judgement may also affect an individual’s social relationships throughout their lifetime.

Fortunately, people with FASD of any age respond well to positivity, nurturing, and encouragement.  The earlier a child is diagnosed with FASD by a medical professional, the better the outcome will be for both the child and family. 

Diagnosis, preferably before age 6, opens doors to the extra support and skills training that children with FASD may need to help them succeed, and the knowledge that will help caregivers raise them with patience, stability, love and understanding.   

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a preventable condition.  As we all want the best for children, the greater our awareness of why FASD occurs and the protective factors that help individuals born with FASD thrive, the stronger our communities will be. For information about alcohol-use treatment, child and family therapy, or parent/child skills training, call (541) 672-2691.