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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Thats Not Apple JuicePerhaps the most tragic problem associated with alcohol abuse is its effect on the fetus. Since alcohol passes through the placenta, even small amounts of alcohol can result in birth defects including hearing loss, vision deficits, neurological impairment, cardiac abnormalities, and skeletal system malformations. The physical and neurological damage resulting to the fetus from heavy maternal drinking is known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation in the United States. All races and ethnic groups are at risk. The physical and mental effects of the condition are irreversible. It is believed that the learning disabilities of many children result from maternal alcohol consumption.

Infants born with FAS may be misdiagnosed. Criteria have been developed to help professionals correctly identify these children, including:

Facial abnormalities

  • short eye openings
  • flattened middle of face
  • small head
  • thin upper lip
  • lack of or flattened groove
    in area between nose and upper lip

Growth deficits

  • decreased height
  • decreased weight
  • slow brain growth
  • abnormal weight/height ratio

Central nervous system problems

  • small brain/delayed brain growth
  • hearing loss
  • impaired motor coordination
  • irritability/jitteriness
  • impaired hand-eye coordination
  • speech impediment
  • behavioral problems

Cardiac abnormalities

Skeletal abnormalities

A large number of children may possess some, but not all, of the above conditions. These children are said to have fetal alcohol effects. Although this condition may not be as severe as FAS, it is still problematic.

The financial and emotional cost of FAS is enormous. FAS children have a myriad of lifelong health issues. As infants, they may be very easily agitated and difficult to comfort. Many also manifest a poor sucking response that contributes to poor weight gain. Affected infants also have difficulty sleeping. As these children grow, their disability may become more noticeable as they begin to interact with other children. Indeed, some are not diagnosed until school performance problems indicate the need for medical intervention. Problematic behaviors may include:

  • learning disorders
  • lower-than-normal IQ
  • poor memory retrieval
  • decreased concentration
  • lack of fine motor skills
  • poor judgment
  • hyperactivity
  • developmental delays
  • decreased impulse control
  • poor comprehension
  • disorganization
  • naiveté
  • poor social skills
  • difficulty differentiating right from wrong

These children need a great deal of help in order for school to be a successful experience. They should be placed with a teacher who understands their need and is able to teach specific to their level of cognition. Behavioral problems need to be addressed consistently and with immediate consequences. As they reach adolescence, they are at risk for sexual and other types of manipulation because of their naivete, poor reasoning skills, and poor impulse control.

FAS adults may need to be placed in a residential group home with supervision. Because of their limited intellectual functioning, some type of vocational training may be indicated. Many FAS adults are able to work with supervision. Many receive Social Security assistance due to their disability, and most will need assistance in managing money. Some characteristics of adults with FAS include:

  • poor judgment
  • poor impulse control
  • criminal behavior
  • sexual promiscuity
  • restlessness
  • poor problem-solving skills
  • resistance to change
  • difficulty forming relationships
  • naiveté, gullibility
  • difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • poor understanding of social norms

Certain population groups in the United States have high rates of fetal alcohol births. Native Americans experience the greatest number of children afflicted with disorder, followed by African-Americans. The rates for Hispanics, Asians, and whites are similar. Other high-risk groups include young women, smokers, and women with little education.

It is imperative that all women learn of the complications of using alcohol before becoming pregnant. Because alcohol has such devastating effects on the developing fetus, avoidance is a must for a healthy baby. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the only birth defect that is 100 percent preventable.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects