September 9th was International FASD Awareness Day. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the most common non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, is thought to affect 2% of the UK and US populations, though some people claim that is a huge under-estimate, with up to 5% affected. Within certain communities – care experienced children – it is significantly higher, with perhaps a third of adoptive children receiving a diagnosis. That is a challenge in itself, with only relatively recent wider recognition of this disorder, above and beyond the facial characteristics which only show on a small proportion of children affected.
FASD is an umbrella term for people who have neurological difficulties resulting from exposure to alcohol in the womb. It impacts on growth, memory and learning, behaviour issues such as anxiety, and physical problems with hearing and sight. The fact that it is entirely preventable is a keystone of the campaigning groups in this country and elsewhere; with a great deal of frustration about responses to government advice to reduce or eliminate drinking in pregnancy.
Parents report an array of challenges at home, including issues around behaviour; and many children will struggle at school. Dr Raja Mukherjee, Britain’s leading FASD expert, working at the National Clinic for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, warns that, without appropriate support, 90% of children go on to experience mental health problems as adults, and many end up homeless or in prison. To mark International FASD Awareness Day, Adoption UK released a report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, which looks at the challenges associated with diagnosing FASD and offers recommendations for how health, social care and education authorities across the UK can better tackle the condition among care experienced children.
For more information about FASD, link to support groups and organisations. Within the UK groups such as NOFAS-UK and FASD Network UK provide information, support and training, or follow Dr Mukherjee on twitter for a range of links and discussions.