What is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

What is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, is the diagnostic term used to describe the impacts on the brain and body of individuals who are prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a life-long disability and no two people who were exposed to alcohol during pregnancy will present with the same set of difficulties, making it very difficult to diagnose. A study conducted in 2018 showed that the number of people with FAST in the UK could be as high as 17%. The one thing that researchers know for sure is that it’s the most common non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK.

What causes it?

Prenatal exposure is caused by alcohol crossing the placenta from the mother to the developing child and enters their blood stream. Though the mother can process alcohol the foetus cannot, and so causes disruption to the development of the foetus’s brain and other areas. This can cause both physical and neurological difficulties.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Some people may be severely physically and neurologically affected, whilst others may be less so. Symptoms can include anything from the following:

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  • A smaller head than average
  • Poor growth including a lower than average birth weight, slow growth and being shorter than average as an adult
  • Distinctive facial features such as small eyes, a thin upper lip and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip, though these may become less noticeable over time
  • Movement and coordination problems
  • Learning difficulties such as problems with thinking, speech, social skills, time keeping, maths, and or memory
  • Mood and behavioural problems including Autism and ADHD
  • Problems with the liver, kidneys, heart or other organs
  • Hearing and vision problems

The problems caused by exposure to alcohol in-utero are permanent and cannot be cured, however early intervention can drastically help those affected.

What does treatment look like?

As no two cases are the same it follows that no two treatment plans would be the same. Treatment is designed to be as holistic as possible and closely follow the person’s development in both their physical and mental health. A treatment plan that is specific to their needs would be drawn up to include aspects like, developmental services, educational intervention, behaviour modification, parent training, social skills training, medications and other medical therapies alongside close monitoring and follow ups.

What are their skills?

As with any disability it’s important to remember that a person, no matter what their struggles, are not defined by their biological differences. People with FASD will also have many strengths and talents and it is important that these are not forgotten. Finding out what a person is good at and encouraging them in it is the best way to help them succeed. Some common skills and strengths that are associated with those who have FASD include being caring, articulate, friendly, musical, artistic, creative, practical, athletic and many more. Many are have professional careers, have attended university, or are advocates for others with their condition in an attempt to spread awareness.