What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?
FASD is recognised as the leading preventable cause of intellectual disability in the developed world. It describes a broad spectrum of physical and developmental disabilities occurring over a person's lifetime, as a direct result of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.
Drinking any amount at any stage of pregnancy can lead to lifelong cognitive, functional and emotional difficulties. (FASD Australia toolkit). When learning and functional needs are not adequately understood and appropriately supported, FASD can also lead to secondary disabilities such as mental health disorders, educational and social problems.
How is FASD caused?
FASD is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The level of harm is dependent on a range of complex factors, such as the amount, frequency and timing of alcohol use. Other factors also influence the outcome such as individual genetic factors in both the mother and the child, age, the physical and mental health of the mother, other substance use and external factors such as exposure to stress, violence or other negative experiences. (FASD Australia toolkit)
How prevalent it FASD?
International prevalence studies suggest FASD is conservatively estimated to occur in at least 1 out of every 100 live births and may be much higher in countries like New Zealand, where binge and hazardous use of alcohol (4+ standard drinks) is prevalent. This would equate to around 600 children born each year with FASD. No research has confirmed the exact prevalence in New Zealand, but it is thought the numbers could be substantially higher due to hazardous drinking patterns and cultural normalisation of drinking .
Furthermore, FASD without physical symptoms can often be misdiagnosed, and is therefore described as a hidden or invisible disability. Accurate diagnosis requires a specialised, multidisciplinary assessment. New Zealand (and Australian) clinics able to assess for FASD follow the Canadian Guidelines for Diagnosis.
Is FASD preventable?
Yes. FASD is recognised as the leading preventable cause of intellectual disability in the developed world. Alcohol can harm the developing fetus at any stage during pregnancy. There is no known safe amount to drink during pregnancy, For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
For more research, stories, and links please visit Fetal Alcohol Network NZ http://www.fan.org.nz/