April is the month of the young child, and to open activities, St. Francis Community Services hosted a workshop on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders for community members.
Beverly Long, member of the FASD diagnostic team, facilitated the workshop and explained there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. Even a small amount of alcohol can impact a developing fetus and lead to lifelong disabilities. A Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is permanent, irreversible brain damage and is entirely preventable by avoiding alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
“There is no safe level of alcohol to drink during gestation,” Long said.
While no two individuals with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are the same, there are some similarities that help professionals make an official diagnosis. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders can lead to physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as problems with behavior and learning. The symptoms can range from mild to severe along a spectrum.
There is no cure for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. However, Long said research shows early intervention services can improve a child’s development and help to prevent secondary behaviors. Some early intervention services which have been helpful include speech, occupational and physical therapy, medical interventions, therapy services and sensory assessments.
“Early intervention is so important,” Long said. “The earlier children receive services and supports, the more successful they are. Having a stable, nurturing environment is also very helpful.”
Long also provided tips for parents or caregivers on how to assist children with FASD. She recommended keeping the BEST model in mind — boundaries, expectations, sensory issues and team supports for success.
“The BEST model includes setting good boundaries, having expectations — yours and theirs,” Long said. “Then sensory issues, looking at deeper responses and team supports for success; we all need a team.”
She also reinforced the importance of asking for help when needed. Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders can have a variety of high needs which can become overwhelming. Long said parents should not be afraid to ask for help.
“Your support system is very, very important,” Long said. “You cannot raise a child who has FASD or any disability as a single person — it is going to be very stressful for you. You need a support system, whether it is your best friend, school counselor, siblings. You were not meant to do it alone and you are not expected to do it alone. It is OK to ask for help.”
Long acknowledged children with FASD can face many challenges throughout their life. Lack of impulse control and deficits in understanding cause and effect can produce challenging behaviors. However, she said each individual with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder also has a host of strengths and she encouraged participants to focus on those strengths and develop them.
“We have to focus on those strengths and develop them,” Long said. “We need to give them hope for the future.”