Make a difference on International FASD Awareness Day
*Sponsored blog by Public Health at Leeds City Council
FASD is the most common, non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, affecting millions of people, and research suggests it may be more common than autism.
But Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is not well known among the general population. It often goes undetected, and many parents-to-be are unaware that babies can develop FASD even through very low levels of drinking whilst pregnant.
It’s no coincidence that International FASD Awareness Day is on 9th September, the ninth day of the ninth month. The date was chosen to highlight the importance of not drinking for the full nine months of pregnancy.
Avoiding any alcohol at all while pregnant is key to preventing FASD, which presents as a spectrum of up to 400 combined conditions, including hearing and sight problems, developmental delay, and bone disorders.
It’s difficult to estimate how many people live with FASD, as the condition is often misdiagnosed or not identified at all. However, a recent study from Salford University found that 1.8% of children may have FASD – almost twice as many as have autism.
People from all groups in society are living with FASD. It’s not caused by poor parenting or poverty. And although there’s no cure, early diagnosis can make all the difference, enabling families to access the right support and achieve the best outcomes for their child.
While people experience a range of symptoms, behavioural issues are the most common feature of FASD. Around 91% of those diagnosed have problems with impulsivity and challenging behaviour. Corrective behavioural approaches like ‘naughty steps’ or removal of rewards are unlikely to work because the underlying issue is organic brain damage. But with specialist support, as well as greater awareness, those living with FASD can develop effective coping strategies.
Families living with FASD can also access support from others who are going through similar experiences via the FASD Network, which runs face-to-face and social media-based peer support groups.
For parents-to-be who are worried about their alcohol use and would like support to manage their drinking, the drug and alcohol treatment service Forward Leeds offers a specialist midwife service. Pregnant women can self-refer or get referred by a health professional.
Sharing the No Thanks I’m Pregnant website with friends via social media will also help to raise awareness of FASD and support pregnant pals to avoid drinking. The site includes recipes for mocktails, and hints for partners and family on how best to support loved ones to avoid drinking during pregnancy.
We can all play a part in preventing FASD, and better supporting the families who live with it.