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Nudge Education FASD Services Launches today!

05 Jul 2021 Mental Health
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

In order to help raise awareness about the support we can provide for children and families of young people with FASD, one of our consultants, Ailsa Clarke has written the post below to provide more information to people who want to know more.

Neurodiversity. It’s a buzzword at the moment, especially in educational circles. We’ve finally worked out that our brains all work differently and some work in more diverse ways than others – so we have all heard of autism. We’ve all heard of ADHD.

But FASD? Mention that acronym and you’ll be met with a blank look nine times out of ten. And yet FASD is the most common preventable neurological disorder in the Western world. So, what exactly is it and what causes it? CanFASD, the Canadian research network into FASD, defines it in clear terms:

‘Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong disability that affects the brain and body of people who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. Each person with FASD has both strengths and challenges and will need special supports to help them succeed with many different parts of their daily lives.’

FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, because a foetus cannot metabolise alcohol in the way that an adult can. It is not only caused by heavy drinking – although the heavier the drinking, the more risk there is of damage. Therefore, FASD isn’t just a disability which affects the children of people who have an alcohol dependency. Whether or not a child who has been exposed to alcohol in utero goes on to develop FASD depends on a complex interplay of genetics, maternal health and nutrition amongst other things. The latest medical guidance from the Chief Medical Officer states that there is ‘no known safe limit’ of alcohol in pregnancy. No alcohol; no risk.

Sometimes, there can be physical damage as a result of exposure, but there is always brain and central nervous system damage when a person has FASD.

The brain develops and grows across the entire nine-month stretch of pregnancy and exposure to alcohol can cause damage to the structure, the neural pathways and therefore the working of the brain in almost all aspects of its functioning. It is a largely hidden disability which is often misunderstood in children and young people as wilfully bad behaviour. Adults with undiagnosed FASD are at vastly increased risk of what is called ‘secondary effects’ – outcomes not directly caused by FASD, but poor personal and social outcomes as a result of not being appropriately understood or supported. Yet in this country, getting a diagnosis is notoriously difficult. Estimates vary when we consider which percentage of the UK population might be living with FASD, but it’s generally reckoned to be at least twice as common as autism.

In some populations – for example, in care experienced children and young people – the predicted prevalence of FASD is much higher. One study found that in excess of 70% of care experienced youngsters had been exposed to alcohol before birth – although that doesn’t mean that all of these youngsters have FASD as a result.

So it’s out there. It’s real – and the chances are that you have met or know someone who has this least known, most hidden and most often misunderstood of neurological differences. You might see it in their difficulty with emotional regulation; sleep and eating difficulties; inability to understand time or to manage money; difficulties in being able to plan and to sequence or to see the ‘big picture’; difficulties in seeing things from someone else’s point of view; sensory avoiding or sensory seeking behaviour; problems with working memory or the maddening inability to do something that they could do yesterday. It may all be ‘explained by brain’ – and when it is understood as that and appropriately supported, the outcome can still be a positive one.

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