Fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, is a serious problem in the United States. In fact, according to the KidsHealth website, as many as 1 in 750 newborns are born each year with this syndrome. Children with FAS can have lifelong mental and physical deficiencies. Alcohol in any form can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, but the greatest risk to the fetus is during the first three months of pregnancy when the brain is developing.
Children with FAS have a number of physical, mental and emotional characteristics, which can vary depending on the amount of alcohol the mother consumed. Mothers who are chronic alcoholics are more likely to have babies with severe FAS symptoms, according to the KidsHealth website. FAS babies are often smaller than average at birth and as they grow. They may also have facial abnormalities, poor coordination or problems with fine motor skills, difficulty with relationships and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, social withdrawal, impulsiveness or anxiety.
FAS can interfere with a child’s physical, emotional, mental and social development. A healthy child with normal brain function reaches certain developmental milestones by a given age. Although there is latitude for variations in individual development, children with FAS lag behind even the slowest normal development and may never reach some milestones. FAS can interfere with speech, language, vision, hearing, behavior, thinking, judgment and reasoning, according to the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. In addition, children with FAS may have intellectual deficits or low IQs.
Parents typically look forward to the day their child smiles for the first time, learns to wave bye-bye, and says her first word. A 6-month-old, for example, is beginning to recognize her parents, babbles, responds to her own name and tries to put things in her mouth, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a child with FAS at age 6 months might not be able to distinguish between her parents and strangers, and might not make any sounds except to cry. If she does pick something up, she might just wave it aimlessly or drop it.
Children with FAS might achieve some developmental milestones, but they are likely to achieve them later than other children. Typically, they are slow to walk and talk compared to their peers, according to the CDC. Once they do begin to walk, however, they are more likely to be hyperactive and have short attention spans. Intervention during the early childhood years is essential to assess and assist a child with FAS in as many ways as possible to develop social, life and educational skills by drawing on the child's strengths. Long-term consequences of FAS include social difficulties, sexual misbehavior and problems with the law, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Children with FAS might require a protected, closely supervised environment for the rest of their lives.
- KidsHealth: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Telethon Institute for Child Health Research: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Developmental Milestones
- Minnesota Department of Health: Children and Youth with Special Health Needs Health Condition Fact Sheet - Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
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