Of late, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders constitute a major public health problem and there has been an increase in awareness in both the lay and academic. It has emerged as a major phenomenon within the education, health, criminal justice and social care systems of many countries, with current prevalence figures suggesting that one in a hundred children and young people have FASDs.
When fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was initially described, diagnosis was based upon physical parameters including facial anomalies and growth retardation, with evidence of developmental delay or mental deficiency. However in 1973, fetal alcohol syndrome was first described as a specific cluster of birth defects resulting from alcohol exposure in uterus. Subsequently, researchers categorically revealed that prenatal alcohol exposure causes a broad range of adverse developmental effects. Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can severely affect the physical and neurobehavioral development of a child.
Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy can give birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sometimes known as FASDs. FASD is the umbrella term for a range of disorders. These disorders can be mild or severe and can cause a woman’s baby to be born with physical and mental birth defects. In fact, alcohol (beer, wine, or hard liquor) is the leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities. These effects can have lifelong implications including physical, mental, behavior or learning issues. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a set of disorders caused by the consumption of alcohol by a mother whilst pregnant. These conditions range in diversity from the full presentation of fetal alcohol syndrome, involving a characteristic set of facial features combined with growth and neurocognitive deﬁcits.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can produce a variety of central nervous system (CNS) abnormalities in the offspring resulting in a broad spectrum of cognitive and behavioral impairments that constitute the most severe and long-lasting effects observed in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Blood alcohol remains high longer in the fetus than in the mother, with more time to accomplish its damaging effects. The severity of fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms varies, with some children experiencing them to a far greater degree than others. Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome may include any mix of physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, and problems functioning and coping with daily life. The most profound effects of prenatal alcohol exposure are on the developing brain and the cognitive and behavioral effects that arise. Alcohol exposure affects brain development via numerous pathways at all stages.
There is no amount of alcohol that’s known to be safe to consume during pregnancy. FASDs are preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy. Still many women have misconceptions about the “safety” of alcohol use and as a result continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy. The safest thing for women to do is not to consume alcohol at all when they know that they are pregnant or are planning to have a baby.
FASDs remain among the most commonly unique causes of developmental delay and intellectual disability, nevertheless are generally accepted to be vastly under recognized. When an individual with an FASD goes undiagnosed and when appropriate interventions are not instituted, secondary disabilities such as substance abuse, school dropout, and criminal involvement are common with corresponding suffering endured by both the affected individual and the family. FASDs have no cure, but affected individuals experience improved medical, psychological, and vocational outcomes over an extended time of intervention and treatment that maximize protective factors and build capacity in identified strengths. Therefore determining the behavioral type early interventions is crucial. Children with FASDs will benefit from a stable and loving home. They can be more sensitive to disruptions in routine than an average child. However these children do well with a regular routine, simple rules to follow, and rewards for positive behavior. Many things can be done to help a child reach his or her full potential, especially when the condition is diagnosed early on. If parents suspect their child has fetal alcohol syndrome, consult doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis may help to reduce problems such as learning difficulties and behavioral issues.