Drinking during pregnancy, in any amount, damages the development of the unborn child. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a congenital condition causing mental and physical retardation that occurs when the expectant mother consumes excessive alcohol, has no cure and becomes a lifetime experience for the child.
When a woman drinks during pregnancy, the alcohol seeps into the fetus from the placenta restricting the entry of oxygen and nutrients essential to the proper development of the baby. Drinking in the first three months may cause the most damage which becomes progressively worse as the drinking continues. Serious results have been reported for women who have more than 8 drinks at a time.
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For parents or respected adults raising children who may be affected by FAS, here are five necessary steps to help the children live their healthiest and most fulfilling lives as possible.
1. Early Detection
Early detection leads to early intervention and better coping mechanisms for children and their parents. FAS is diagnosable as early as the first few weeks after birth. Detection is possible at any level from childhood through to adulthood. Common symptoms parents can look out for include the following:
- Facial deformities including tiny eyes set close together, a tiny, up-tilted nose, very small head, short neck, slight upper lip, cleft palate
- Deformed limbs or joints and arrested growth
- Hearing and sight defects, and heart problems
- Attention deficit, slowed mental capacity, poor self-discipline, and poor problem solving and decision making skills
2. Get Help
Once abnormalities have been detected, parents should seek an early diagnosis by a doctor so the child can get help right away and the family and school authorities can learn coping skills. It’s important to have constant communication with a pediatrician to find the best support groups available, as well as the appropriate counseling and treatment services. Parents can seek help from the appropriate therapist for specialized problems. For instance, an occupational therapist can help with managing muscle and joint deformities, while a child psychologist assists with emotional problems.
3. Stable Home Life
Children do best when they are in the midst of a happy and stable home life. Children with FAS are particularly vulnerable in situations involving fractured or abusive relationships, and constant movement from one home to the other. Their environment should be loving, caring and supportive. Try to make family life as predictable and repetitive as possible and avoid exposing the child to violence. Children with FAS are usually impressionable. So if they witness violent behavior, or are victims of violence themselves, they may become predisposed to violence as adults. Therefore, it’s important to lead by example.
4. Monitor Behavior
The management of anger and frustration are important at an early age. This helps children with FAS to control their emotions and hold off secondary disorders such as drug and alcohol abuse. Encourage activities your child excels at – perhaps piano, poetry, painting or a sport. Keep their environment simple with no distractions like TV and toys to strengthen their concentration. Establish boundaries and rules using simple, specific and direct language. One task at a time will do. Tasks can be as simple as making the bed, or feeding the cat. Patience, repetition and close supervision are vital.
Introduce new tasks only when the child has mastered the last task. When a child makes a mistake, it helps to explain what went wrong to the child immediately. If you wait longer, the child may forget where he or she went wrong. When consequences are enforced, ensure that the child fully understands the reason behind the consequence. Conversely, children also need to be rewarded for good behavior so they can continue to improve themselves.
5. Communicate and Collaborate
Children with FAS can be disruptive in the classroom. But once teachers are made aware of the child’s condition, they can make a learning plan that fits in with the child’s individual needs and minimizes disruptions. Parents can also explain the successful techniques they’ve developed at home. Teachers will want to know the tasks the child excels at to better serve the child.
If your child is unable to adapt to the regular school system, enrollment at a special needs school where your child can receive individual attention may be best. Special needs education is geared to the child’s needs in a carefully created environment to encourage good development.
FAS is not always an insurmountable problem. If it is detected and diagnosed early, is not too severe, and the child is surrounded by a loving and supportive family, there’s no reason why the child can’t live a healthy life.