Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Is Changing Views

July 25, 2012

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Is Changing Views

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Is changing views about alcohol and pregnancy:They do not mix. This creed is something often repeated to women expecting children nowadays even though it is a truth we have only just discovered. In fact, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a pattern of physical and behavioral deficits that are caused by maternal alcohol use while pregnant, was only identified and named in 1973. For my part, I remember sitting with the doctor when I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. Since she was unplanned, I had no idea that I was pregnant with her for about 5-6 weeks. During that time I know I had drunk alcohol, a fact which immediately scared me. Alcohol is one of a few substances that is able to cross the barrier of the placenta and, in high doses, is known to cause severe and permanent central nervous system damage to the child. I was assured, however, that my small consumption in the early weeks of my pregnancy would have no ill-effects on my daughter; mine was a common “problem” among mothers, and also a common fear. However, there is a clear line between a few drinks early in pregnancy and a full-on drinking problem throughout the 40 weeks of gestation. That line, as defined by the National Institutes of Health is four or more drinks per day throughout pregnancy. Binge drinking, in which a person consumes five or more drinks at a time, is also a factor in determining the ultimate effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Is changing views about alcohol and pregnancy:They do not mix.

Understanding FAS When consumed in high doses, alcohol can have a major negative effect on a developing fetus. What is generally defined as central nervous system damage includes symptoms that range from learning and language delays, hyperactivity and ADHD to intellectual and cognitive delays, growth delays, and distinctive facial features. However, for most of the time that we have known about FAS, it is the facial features that have always defined it. Among the most telling of signs, FAS babies and children are defined by small eye openings along with large epicanthal folds (the area between the nose and the inner side of the eyebrow), a small head and small, underdeveloped jaw, a flat area in the mid-face region along with a thin upper lip. Take a look at the image at right, courtesy of A.D.A.M. Education, for a more complete picture. Spotting FAS Children Since the physical signs of FAS have always been the major indicator for health professionals and educators alike, the relationship between physical symptoms and more severe developmental delays was important to establish. With such a goal, the NIH commissioned a study involving researchers in Chile to track the association between physical FAS features and developmental FAS damage. The results of this study have recently been published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Using a sample of 9,000 Chilean women, researchers were able to identify 101 whose drinking habits during pregnancy matched the criteria for FAS. These women were then matched with 101 other women whose circumstances and characteristics were similar, but who did not consume alcohol. They followed these women through their pregnancy and for eight years after. The results clearly showed that the physical features of FAS were not a major indicator of a child’s condition; this is displayed in the table below:
Symptom of FAS Exposed Children Unexposed Children
Abnormal Facial Features 17% 1%
Delayed Growth 27% 13%
Cognitive Delays 35% 6%
Language Delays 42% 24%
Hyperactivity 27% 2%
  Though clearly there is a strong connection between facial features associated with FAS and actually having FAS, the results of this study show that it is far more likely that children exposed to large amounts of alcohol while in the womb will present with far less “obvious” warning signs and symptoms. Learning to Look Beyond the Face For educators tasked with not only serving, but spotting disabilities, this is very important. Relying on “old standbys” such as the “FAS look” may not be as smart as was once thought. Many times, children will not know what has caused their problems and in many cases of adoption and foster care, neither will parents and guardians. There are three other major diagnostic criteria for FAS, which includes growth deficiency and other signs of CNS damage that must also come into play. For educators, knowing when to ask questions and dig deeper helps us to better serve the students who need us most. Sometimes, FAS is as a result of an ongoing problem at home. Other times, explaining behaviors and their causes can help on the path to control and intervention. To learn more about drug prevention, access our collection of resources in the store. For counselors, 1500+ Print on Demand Forms; updated regularly2 day free trial counseling forms

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