'Children and adults with FASD struggle everyday to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense. They can see the real world, but they have been robbed of parts of their brain or parts of their functioning, so they see what normalcy is and they see that they don’t fit in.' - Susan Fleischer, adoptive parent and founder of the NOFAS-UK

The official line on drinking during pregnancy

You can find current Government advice on alcohol during pregnancy on the NHS Choices website.

What is FASD?

FASD, an umbrella term for the following diagnoses:

  • fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • partial FAS
  • alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
  • alcohol-related brain defects (ARBD)
  • possible fetal alcohol effects (PFAE)

Children with FAS have distinct facial features. Other symptoms of these conditions include long-lasting growth problems and brain damage affecting behavioural, cognitive and learning difficulties.

The impact of FASD

Matthew Verity, the first child to be diagnosed with FASD in 1977, was removed from his alcoholic mother at six weeks of age.

As a baby he had difficulty feeding, was withdrawn and never smiled. He learned to walk late, could not read facial expressions and body language and, aged 12, after a traumatic transfer to secondary school, suffered a breakdown.

His adoptive mother Janet said: 'He was a strange, confused and lonely little boy who had no interaction with any of his peers, except through bullying.'

Aged 30, Matthew became a spokesman for the issue.

He said:

'Loneliness and vulnerability is a horrible part of it. Very few people in my life have actually understood me and clicked with me as a friend.'

Matthew loves music, has difficulties with short term memory and depression. As a young man he had to deal with the anger he felt towards his birth parents.

Getting an early diagnosis of FAS

Adoptive mother Avril Head, whose young son, Dominic, has full FAS and was not expected to live when he was born.

She would encourage parents who suspect their children have FASD to get an early diagnosis: 'If we can recognise it and get help, then children won’t be handed over for adoption without being diagnosed and we can give information and help to adoptive parents.

'Society has to change. We have to recognise that people need help. Dominic’s parents were extremely addicted to alcohol, but didn’t realise how badly they needed help and how it affected their child.'

Challenges for  a FASD child

Susan Fleischer explains that children with FASD often have a good long term memory but damaged short term memory. They can appear normal and be good at things, but what they do well one day they cannot do at all the following day, which is difficult for other people to understand. They feel frustration, both at their own inabilities and outside criticism.

Other difficulties include time management, budgeting, personal hygiene, social relationships and problem solving. As adults, most need supported housing and assisted living.

How parents can help

Susan advises parents to:

  • Train themselves to repeat things and to simplify
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Use routines
  • Establish a calm environment for your children.

She recommended finding 'nurturing situations', such as inclusive theatre groups and schemes like Riding for the Disabled, that will not criticise children or say ‘try harder, you can do it’.

She added: 'Find something they love, not something they may be good at. If your child has a passion then that is a success story.'

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