Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Doctor: Fetal alcohol damage ‘entirely preventable’

By:Laura J. McKenzie

“It’s just a little glass of wine,” a pregnant woman says to herself. “It can’t hurt.”

But it does.

In the delivery room she learns that her baby has a smaller head circumference than normal and its face is a little disfigured. Her child is brain damaged from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

“The sad part about it is that it is entirely preventable,” said Barnwell pediatrician Dr. Abe Moskow recently.

“Alcohol rocks the brain of a fetus. If you combine all the other street drugs together, they are not as bad as alcohol,” he said.

When asked how much alcohol is dangerous to a fetus, Dr. Moskow has advice for a woman who is pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. “Sniffing the bottle is about as close as you should get to it.”

It doesn’t matter if it is wine, beer or liquor, said Moskow. “It’s all dangerous.”

“This is not a burden of males,” said Moskow. “It’s all on women.”

“Current science does not yet show that the father’s drinking prior to conception can cause a FASD,” he said.

He said some women don’t realize they are pregnant when they are drinking, but the impact is the same.

He explained that FASD is different from other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He said conditions related to ADHD can be ‘fixed’ with medications while FASD cannot. “The brain is irreparably damaged,” he said. “It can never ever be repaired. No medicine can fix it.”

Moskow said he sees children with FASD “every day” in his practice, something he says he finds frustrating knowing that it is preventable.

According to statistics provided by the FASD Center, “the prevalence of the full spectrum of FASD in the general population is estimated at 9.1 per 1,000 live births” but suggests the rate could be higher.

“FASD is the leading cause of developmental disabilities in the U.S.,” according to MOFAS.org (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).

Sometimes the syndrome is not accurately diagnosed until later in a child’s life, making it harder for families to understand and deal with the challenges.

Children with FASD have a huge list of behavioral challenges, some of which can be misinterpreted with other problems. They can be easily distracted, often do not follow through on instructions, often interrupt or intrudes, have no impulse controls, have learning lags, have speech and language problems, and often lose their temper. Given a list of 39 behavioral characteristics exhibited by children comparing FASD with ADD/ADHD, autism, bi-polar, depression, trauma and poverty-related mental health problems, only FASD exhibited all 39 issues. Children with the other disorders displayed less than half of the characteristics.

The developmental age of a child with FASD can be roughly “in half” of their actual age. At age 18, the child may have the expressiveness of a 20-year-old but only the comprehension capabilities of a 6-year-old, the social skills of a 7-year-old, the living skills of an 11-year-old and the money/time concept of an 8-year-old.

The cost of raising a child with FASD is staggering. “Researchers have found that, for a child with identified FASD, incurred health costs are nine times higher than for children without a FASD.” Over their lifetime, the cost of caring for that person is estimated to be $2 million,” according to the FASD Center.

“Parents of children with an FASD face unique challenges,” states the FASD Center’s documents. “A child with an FASD may get into trouble or act out, they may need to be told many times, and they may do things without understanding the consequences. When they get older, they may not be able to live alone. However, studies have shown that early diagnosis and a stable, positive environment can improve the outlook for people with a FASD.”

They are also at an increased risk of having problems with the law. They will make fake confessions and may find it difficult to distinguish right from wrong, according to MOFAS.

For the mother and family members, knowing that FASD is preventable often carries with it guilt and shame. “No mother wants this for her child,” said Moskow. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Not all is horrible. “These kids are precious,” according to MOFAS. “They can be really frustrating, really often, but they are typically really fun kids who just want love and acceptance.”

But they are children whose whole lives have been changed by at least one drink of alcohol.

“Just don’t take that drink,” said Dr. Moskow. “It’s not worth it.”

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