What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

The Science
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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or FASDs, are a group of conditions that can represent themselves in a person that suffered from a mother that drank alcohol during their pregnancy.

FASD effects can range from severe to very mild, each condition can have various effects on a person, this can include physical problems, or defects and psychological problems with behaviour and learning capabilities

For this reason it is critical that an early diagnosis is made. DNA Legal have launched a new test, the Umbilical Cord Test, this allows clinical teams and local authorities to determine the level of exposure of drugs and alcohol, that a baby was exposed to, during the second term (4.5 - 9 months) of pregnancy.

How to detect FASD

Recognising if a child has FASD can be difficult, as the symptoms can be similar to other disorders. However after extensive research, diagnostic criteria has been developed so that FASD can be spotted early in a child’s development. The following is a criteria list of how to spot FASD:

Central nervous system abnormalities

The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord, and it is central to everything that we do, as it controls all the functions of the body. When there is a problem with the central nervous system, a person can have issues with learning, moving and speaking. It can also be problematic for social skills, memory and senses. The following is a list of key areas that FASD can effect in the central nervous system.

  1. Functional

The child's ability to function in general is well below the average for their age group. There are various functional disabilities associated with FASD. These include cognitive defects such as a low IQ, learning disabilities in math is common, but also poor grades across the curriculum. Performance levels can be low in verbal, non verbal and slow movements or reactions.

A child may find it difficult to process how to carry out simple life tasks, examples include poor organisational abilities, lack of motivation, understanding cause and effect, difficulty in thinking in a new way, inability to apply knowledge to a situation.

Muscles in the body can also be difficult to control, this can affect walking, writing, balancing issues, spasms, dexterity and general clumsiness.  These are all classified as motor functional delays.

Behavioural problems can also be caused by FASD, the child may always seem to be hyperactive, extremely inattentive or distracted, unable to calm down from certain situations. This can be very “on” “off”. As a child may seem to be improving but will often relapse back into difficult behavioural problems. Social skills will also become an issue, a child may have a lack of fear of approaching strangers, be extremely immature in their nature, and may struggle to understand how others feel.

 2.  Structural

Structural differences in the brain have been noted in children suffering with FASD. The head size is smaller than what would normally be expected. The brain can also be formed in a way that isn't viewed as normal. This has been observed when a child goes for a MRI or CT scan.   

Facial Dysmorphia

  • Smooth philtrum - smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • Thin vermillion border - thin upper lip
  • Small palpebral fissures - minimal distance between the inner and outer corners of the eyes. This will give the yes a wide spacing appearance

Growth Problems

Normally children that suffer with FASD have a height and weight that are lower than what would normally be expected. The growth issues can occur before birth, however for some children, growth difficulties resolve themselves during their early development.  

In conclusion a child will suffer from FASD if the following criteria can be met

  1. Growth defects
  2. All three facial features are present
  3. The child suffers from central nervous problems

This is an extremely debilitating disorder that is brought on due to a mothers persistent use of alcohol during pregnancy. If you're looking to establish alcohol or drug abuse of an expectant mother and the transfer to the baby contact DNA Legal on 0203 4243 470 to go through more details.

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