About fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a range of health and development problems. These problems are grouped under a condition called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Causes of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol passes through the placenta and enters the bloodstream of unborn babies. This can affect brain development in unborn babies and can have serious, life-long consequences for children’s health and development.
There is no ‘safe’ level of drinking while pregnant. Heavy binge-drinking puts unborn babies at most risk of FASD.
Women who are pregnant, or who could get pregnant, should not drink alcohol. Mothers who are breastfeeding should also not drink alcohol.
Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
The physical signs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) vary, but many children with FASD have:
- small eyes
- thin upper lip
- smooth philtrum
- small head
- poor coordination and fine motor skills
- slow growth and development.
Children with FASD might have:
- learning difficulties
- intellectual disability
- poor memory
- difficulty communicating.
Children with FASD might:
- be impulsive
- have anxiety and depression
- find it hard to organise themselves
- seem to have the behaviour and emotions of younger children.
Diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
A GP, paediatrician or other child health professional can diagnose fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) by looking for the signs above and using a special set of criteria. This is called the Australian FASD Diagnostic Instrument.
The earlier a child gets a diagnosis of FASD, the earlier the child can get intervention to help him reach his potential. If you have any concerns about your child and FASD, it’s a good idea to speak with your GP.
Support and treatment for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can’t be cured. But children with FASD can get treatment to improve their outcomes and quality of life.
Treatment depends on the difficulties a child with FASD has. For example, if a child has difficulties with speech and communication, speech therapy might help. If a child has learning and behaviour difficulties at school, there might be options for school disability support. Occupational therapy can help children with movement and daily care difficulties.
When children have FASD, a large team of health professionals usually helps to support the whole family. This team might include the following:
- child and family health nurse
- case manager
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech pathologist.