FASD stands for Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, an alcohol-related condition that is one of the leading causes of learning disability in the UK. FASD is a consequence of women drinking during pregnancy, and it can have a serious, long-term impact on a baby’s growth and development.
It’s estimated that 40,000 newborns every year are affected by FASD, with the effects of drinking while pregnant ranging from minor to life-threatening. Now, 1 in every 100 babies have FASD, so it’s important that foster carers are aware of the condition and how it may affect a child’s development, learning and behaviour.
In this guide, we take a look at what FASD is, how it affects children and what you can do to help and support a child in your care who may have the condition.
- What is FASD and what effects does it have on children?
- How to identify if a child in your care has FASD?
- What groups and resources are available to foster parents of children with FASD?
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is one of the leading causes of birth defects in newborn babies. It’s an umbrella term for a range of defects which a baby can suffer if their mum drank alcohol while pregnant. These individual conditions are:
- Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
- Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
- Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE)
- Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS)
FASD is often compared to autism because of the scale of different defects within the spectrum. Some babies with FASD may have severe, life-shortening symptoms which can be detected at birth, while others will show the effects much later in life. That’s why it’s important that parents and carers know the signs to look out for so that a child can be properly diagnosed – limiting the impact the condition will have on their long-term learning and development.
FASD can have a wide-ranging impact on a newborn’s health and development. When it passes into the foetus, it circulates through the bloodstream, killing brain cells and damaging the nervous system. It can also cause abnormal growth defects and facial disfigurement – all through exposure to alcohol.
Some of the most common defects and symptoms caused by FASD include:
- Learning disabilities – affecting a child’s academic performance, attention span, organisation, and ability to read and write.
- Balance and hearing problems
- Abnormal growth and development – height and weight issues are common in FASD sufferers
- Liver damage
- Weak immune system
- Kidney and heart problems
- Mouth, teeth and facial defects
Because FASD is a spectrum disorder, not all children will have the same symptoms, and even if they do, it may still affect their quality of life differently. Among the most difficult FASD defects to spot are neurological problems, which could hinder a child’s learning, development, behaviour and relationships in later life.
If FASD isn’t detected at birth, the condition gets more difficult to spot and diagnose correctly as a child gets older. An accurate and timely diagnosis can vastly improve a child’s chances of living a normal life, so it’s important that foster carers know some of the signs to look for – which include:
- A slow rate of growth – FASD causes growth defects which can affect a child all the way to early adulthood. If you’re concerned your child isn’t growing at the normal rate (assuming they’ve been in your care for a few years), it could be worth getting them checked over by your GP.
- Hyperactivity, poor social skills or lack of focus – This is where diagnosing FASD can get difficult. The condition shares similarities with other learning disabilities, so your child may need to sit several tests before an accurate diagnosis can be made. If they aren’t behaving well in school or struggle in the classroom, it’s worth talking to their doctor.
- Sight and hearing problems – Alcohol-related birth defects can affect a child’s sight and hearing at any age, and problems may be undetectable until they’re older. Does your child often struggle to hear you or sometimes seems lost in thought? It could be a sign of FASD.
- Poor hand-eye coordination – Does your child fall over a lot, or perhaps they’re always dropping things? Excessive clumsiness and poor coordination are among the most common symptoms of FASD in young people.
- A distinct facial shape – FASD can result in a child being born with a mild facial deformity, which may not appear that obvious until they’re in their teens. This is characterised by small, wide-set eyes, a thin upper lip, a smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose, and other unusual facial features.
If you have any concerns about your child, it’s always worth speaking to their doctor, as well as their social worker. They are best placed to look into the child’s family and medical history, and find out if there is any cause for concern.
Given the number of children now born with FASD, there is a growing number of support groups and resources. Providing help and advice for children and their families, these support networks are invaluable in helping a child cope with their condition.
We’ve listed our recommended FASD support groups and resources in the table below.
FASD can have a significant impact on a child’s life, both physically and psychologically. That’s why it’s important that foster carers understand as much as they can about the condition, so they can provide the help and support their child needs both now and in the future.
At NFA, we help our foster carers overcome the many challenges of raising a child, providing 24/7 support to all our foster families. If you’re interested in joining our dedicated fostering community, call us now on 0800 044 3030 or visit the homepage for more details.