On September 9th, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognized International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day. First recognized in 1999, the day is meant to be a reminder that there is no safe level of drinking while pregnant and to raise awareness about the conditions that can result from alcohol use during pregnancy. Every year, thousands of children are born with physical, mental, and behavioral problems as a result of exposure to alcohol while in the womb.
The following are just a few of the issues that can result from FASD:
- Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
- Small head size
- Shorter-than-average height
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Difficulty with attention and memory
- Learning disabilities and difficulty in school
- Speech and language delays
- Intellectual disability or low IQ
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills
- Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
- Vision or hearing problems
- Problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most serious type of FASD. Kids with fetal alcohol syndrome are typically identifiably physically, because they share certain facial features such as small eye openings, a thin upper lip, and a smooth philtrum (the groove between the nose and upper lip). In addition to the above-listed conditions, seizures are possible, along with other neurological problems like poor balance and coordination. They tend to have poor social skills and a difficulty getting along with others, as well as behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, poor attention and concentration, stubbornness, impulsiveness, and anxiety.
Some people only have partial FAS (pFAS), where they don’t meet all of the criteria for a diagnosis of FAS but still exhibit some of the signs, like the facial abnormalities and growth problems.
Another type of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is called Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). People with ARND do not have abnormal facial features or growth problems, but there are issues with how their brain and nervous systems are formed, leading to impaired function. These individuals may have intellectual disabilities, behavior or learning problems, and nerve or brain abnormalities.
Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE) is characterized by impairment in neurocognition (basically, the ability to reason and think), impaired self-regulation, and impairments of adaptive functioning (social and emotional maturity and life skills).
People with Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) might not have any of the cognitive problems or abnormalities in their appearance, but they tend to have problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones or with their hearing.
FASDs can sometimes be hard to diagnose, because there are medical tests that can detect it. Doctors instead have to look at things like birth weight and facial appearance, but many of the symptoms won’t be present until the time babies are meant to start walking and talking.
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