WHAT IS FASD?
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that affect a person due to prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE).
It is probably the most common preventable cause of non-genetic learning disability and such individuals may also be living with a number of complex, lifelong, physical, mental, psychological and emotional difficulties due to the exposure to alcohol as a foetus.
WHAT CAUSES FASD?
FASD can be caused broadly in two ways, either direct or indirect. Where there is direct damage, the alcohol is taken into the system and directly affects the cells as they are developing. The second way is that it modifies how the genes which make us all up are expressed, and so normal development may or may not happen. That leads to malformation or abnormalities.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS?
There are a range of characteristics that you can see in someone who has FASD. The classic that most people focus on are the facial characteristics, which tend to be small eyes, a thin upper lip and philtrum. They are rare, occurring in about five to ten percent of the whole spectrum of presentation, only developing in a short window during the early part of pregnancy. The bit you don’t see is the brain. The brain is invisible in terms of what it looks like but it is developing throughout pregnancy. FASD can lead to problems with:
As society demands more of these individuals, the less they are able to manage. The later it presents, the more likely it is going to be put down to bad behaviour, bad parenting, both of which may be inappropriate in a group where actually what you need to be looking for is... 'Why is the brain not working properly?'
WHAT ARE THE AFFECTS OF HAVING FASD?
There are many recognised affects on the lives of individuals with FASD, and these require timely support, preferably from an early age. If FASD is not recognised or diagnosed, individuals can develop secondary conditions which have lifelong implications that can cause significant stress on the individual and also those supporting them, be it family or caregivers. Some of the common examples of these are disengagement with education, services and relationships. These secondary conditions could place them at a higher risk of mental health issues; things like suicide and substance abuse, and also involvement in the criminal justice system.
Alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause irreversible damage to the structure and function of organs in the body, particularly the brain. Therefore, the characteristics of FASD cannot be cured. The needs of each individual require specialist assessment and lifelong support, which sadly is not readily available. However, timely diagnosis and support can, and has been shown to, lead to positive and more fulfilled lives.
Watch 'An Unchosen Path', the powerful video below, written by Eddie Jackson, a young man who lives with the challenges of FASD.