Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is an irreversible, lifelong condition that affects every aspect of a child's life and the lives of his or her family members. FAS is the only birth defect that can be completely prevented. If a woman does not consume any alcohol during pregnancy, her child will not develop FAS. With early identification and diagnosis, a child with FAS can receive services that can help maximize his or her potential but will never be cured.
There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol is potentially dangerous to an unborn baby. However, if a pregnant woman is drinking during pregnancy, it is never too late for her to stop. The sooner a woman quits drinking, the better it will be for both her and her baby. This does not mean that some damage can heal, but the severity of the damage may be minimized.
Early intervention at home and school is very important for a child's quality of life. Intervention should begin at least by the time a child is 5 years old. Children who screen positive for, whether or not they subsequently are diagnosed with FAS, ARND, or ARBD often come from very unstable families and may be at greater risk for abuse and neglect. As many as 85 percent of these children are not being raised by their parents, but by relatives, foster parents, or adoptive parents. These children have life-long learning and behavioral problems as a result of the damage to their brain. Raising a child affected by FAS can be extremely stressful and overwhelming for the caregivers.
Treatment options are rather limited. Some of the physical birth defects can be repaired with surgery; several procedures may be required though before the damage is repaired. Many of the defects cannot be treated and will be a permanent part of the child's life. Specialized social, educational, and legal services may also be necessary. As you can see in the Associated Traits section, many problems will persist throughout the child's entire life. By getting the child into intervention programs early, some of the negative social and educational effects can be minimized before they can impact other areas of the child's development. The services available may also be limited to what the local community has to offer a family raising a FAS child. These options are not guaranteed to work but they do attempt to improve the child's life, as well as the child's outlook on life. Unfortunately, nothing has yet been discovered to repair the damage alcohol causes to the brain of a developing fetus.
There are several personality and learning traits associated with children exposed to alcohol in utero. People have documented the traits in babies and children as far back as the early 1700's. Parents, teachers, and doctors can observe similar traits in the children they work with and live with, but alcohol being a direct cause has not been proven. Many factors (socioeconomic status, abuse, neglect, chemical exposure, nutrition, etc.) have also been shown to be associated with similar behavior patterns. With early intervention some of these behaviors can be improved or even reversed, but many others will be a permanent part of the child's life.
Kindergarten - Sixth Grade
- Gullible, easily influenced by others
- Memory loss and retrieval problems. Needs things repeated multiple times and still may not retain information.
- Lying, stealing, or disobedient
- Problems separating fantasy from reality, having a different perception of reality
- Temper tantrums
- Delayed physical, academic, and/or social development
- Silence, retreating from situations
- Inappropriate social behavior
Middle School / Junior High
- Criminal activity
- Poor reasoning skills
- Cognitive problems from previous section do not improve (memory, recall, reality, etc.)
- Poor motivation, low self-esteem, depression
- Academically tops out in one or more subjects
- Sexually active, drug or alcohol use
- Lacks time management skills, no concept of time
- Same traits as Middle School
- Difficulty maintaining living quarters, homeless
- Poor sequencing
- High level of frustration, easily frustrated
- Post High School / Early Adulthood
- Same problems as in High School
- Inability to sort information and set priorities
- Poor financial management skills
- No concept of cause and effect
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