What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a disability that can occur in children, youth, and adults when alcohol is consumed by the mother during pregnancy. Alcohol, like food, and anything else a mother eats or drinks, goes from the mother’s blood into the developing baby and can change the way the baby’s body and brain are developing. Alcohol that is consumed, quickly reaches the baby and can affect him/her for longer than it affects you. Even from the start of a pregnancy, alcohol can have serious and permanent consequences.
Any type of alcohol can harm a baby prior to birth. What matters is the amount of alcohol that is consumed and how often. Consumption of alcohol that brings the mother’s blood alcohol level to 0.08 is considered a “binge”. Evidence shows that when a pregnant mother consumes alcohol at high-risk levels or binge drinks, the baby is at risk of developmental abnormalities . (The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada’s Alcohol Use in Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guideline 2011)
Because there is not enough evidence to know how much harm small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may cause, abstinence is the safest choice if you are pregnant or plan to be pregnant. FASD is not isolated to a culture, age, the life style nor the health of a pregnant mother.
In 2015, the new Canadian Guidelines for Diagnosing FASD made it possible to now have FASD used as a diagnostic term for a range of disabilities in the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM V).
The FASD Diagnosis includes:
- FASD with Sentinel Facial Findings (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: FAS; partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: pFAS)
- FASD without Sentinel Facial Findings (Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder: ARND)
- At Risk Designation
FASD is an Invisible Disability
Pre-exposure to alcohol can affect how a baby’s face develops. However, most people with FASD do not have any facial features that the common eye is able to identify. FASD is an invisible disability – there are no physical features that identify the disorder. Only trained Physicians, using unique diagnostic tools are able to identify measurable differences in facial or body features affected by FASD.
FASD And the Body
FASD does not just impact the mental processing of a person. It also impacts their physical conditions. Those with FASD experience significantly higher than normal rates of heart disorders, hearing problems, visual problems, joint and muscle difficulties, depression and anxiety. FASD is a full body diagnosis.
How do you get FASD?
Prenatal exposure to alcohol is the only cause of FASD.
Many adults struggle throughout their life with the “primary conditions” of FASD.
- Understanding and using expressive language
- Sensory issues
- Executive functioning problems
- Problem solving
- Memory issues
When they are not diagnosed early as youth, they struggle through their life and do not understand why so many things are so difficult. They get labelled as: lazy, unmotivated, insensitive, and they begin to identify with those labels. Many grow to become adults who do not understand that they have FASD and they do not know what they need and could use to help themselves. Many suffer from the experience of trauma. They begin to develop secondary conditions:
- Difficulty learning at school, work or in the home
- Attending and focusing
- Remembering information, dates, appointments, sequence of tasks
- Managing money
- Getting and keeping employment
- Drug or alcohol problems
- Making healthy and safe decisions
- Victims of sexual perpetrators
- Understanding language used in social or professional exchanges
- Criminal justice involvement
- Finding and keeping jobs
- Building and keeping relationships
Finding out if they have FASD doesn’t change who they are, but it does help them understand why some things are hard, and what they need to do to change their situation so they can be successful. Everyone with FASD is unique, and they all have many strengths and needs. Many adults miss being diagnosed as youth for a multitude of reasons.
Every living person needs help with some things. When people with FASD know what they need and how to ask for it, life gets easier.
Reasons Why Women Drink When They Are Pregnant
- Women do not know they are pregnant.
Approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Most women will stop drinking when they learn they are pregnant. It is important to avoid drinking while engaging in and after unprotected sex. Preplanning pregnancies takes the risk of FASD out of the equation.
- Women are unaware of the extent of damage alcohol can cause the fetus.
While FASD is the leading known cause of this developmental disability, the range of harms of alcohol during pregnancy is still debated in the media and science has yet to determine all the factors that affect how alcohol can affect a developing fetus.
- Women underestimate the harms alcohol consumption can cause because they know other women who drank during pregnancy and their children “appear” healthy.
While many women are aware of the possible harms of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the effects can be varied, invisible and only apparent years down the road.
- Alcohol use is the norm in their social group, so abstaining may be difficult.
For some women, it could be hard to abstain when it’s expected that they drink, especially if people don’t yet know they are pregnant. Alcohol use is often an integral part of business networking for professionals, for general socializing and for developing relationships.
- Women may be using alcohol to cope with difficult life situations such as violence, depression, poverty or isolation.
Many women find it difficult to stop drinking when their life circumstances remain challenging during pregnancy or if they have few alternatives for finding support and treatment.
- Women may struggle with Alcohol Addiction
Addiction spans all segments of society and can be a concern long after pregnancy. In some cases, pregnancy can be an opportunity to address addiction issues, but in other cases, ‘harm reduction” approaches should be considered until a women is ready to address her addiction.
Prevalence of FASD
FASD is found anywhere people drink alcohol. It is found right here in our communities and throughout the world. Approximately 46,000 people in British Columbia are living with FASD, and each year, an estimated 6000 Canadian children are born with the disorder. (Popova, 2016) It is difficult to tell how many people have FASD because not everyone has the opportunity to be diagnosed. Research locally and with the World Health Organization continues to provide us with up to date statistics. At present, it is believed that 5-9% of the populations have an FASD.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been identified as a major public health concern in Canada. The numbers of those born with FASD continues to rise even though prevention campaigns exist around the world.
How To Get Assessed for FASD
If you think you may have FASD or if someone you know may have an undiagnosed FASD, please call the office to discuss the assessment and support process. Bernadette O’Donnell 250 938 5022