Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
FASD is a medical condition that refers to a range of disorders, including brain injury, caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is conservatively estimated to affect approximately 1% of the of the North American population. May and Gossage, Estimating the Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Research & Health, The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Vol. 25, Num. 3, 2001; Sampson, Streissguth, Bookstein, Little, Clarren, Dehaene et al; Incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and prevalence of alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder, Teratology, 1997
“FASD is an incredibly complex issue that affects the lives of thousands of families.” Linda Reid, British Columbia Minister of State for Early Childhood Development.
Mental Health Problems are common among those with FASD. As high as 94% have at least one co-morbid diagnosis in adulthood. (52% Depression, 43% Suicide Threats, 40% ADHD, 33% Panic Attacks, 29% Psychosis, 23% Suicide Attempts).
Streissguth, Barr, Kogan and Bookstein, Understanding the Occurrence of Secondary Disabilities in Clients with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol effects (FAE); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Grant No. R04/CCR0087515, 1996
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
FASD is a disorder that levels the playing field, crossing all boundaries of wealth, race, and nation. As ministers for Jesus Christ, we can effectively approach this enormous mission only under the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Under that guidance, there are three helping areas we can focus in:
Supporting those struggling with FASD
To support those struggling with FAS: Be positive, prayerful, and laugh whenever you can. Focus on people’s strengths and concentrate on life skills. Children struggling with learning disabilities can learn math at the same time as learning to cook. Use music, dance and art to help teach concepts. Teach and how to make and use lists. Help people to understand social situations and the nuances of social exchange. Teach marketable skills. Teach people about God. Children and youth affected by FAS do learn; they just learn differently. Nothing is impossible for Jesus.
Also remember that what is “fair doesn’t necessarily the “same.” Individuals must be treated according to their needs, not according to what the person next to them needs. Maintain firm limits. Don’t expect that they will learn from consequences but maintain the consequences anyway. Repetition, after a certain amount of time, does work.
When considering how to decorate your home, “less is more.” This means less noise, less people, less stuff, less activity. Strictly limit choices. Monitor and regulate what is watched on television, control video games, and control the number of people that your child will have to deal with.
Provide structure and support for money management. Be specific when giving instruction, and advocate for them, interpret for them, and protect them as much as allowed. Be a benevolent guide. One concept calls such advocacy a “3rd brain,” meaning, the support person, if allowed, can act as an “external brain,” promoting independence through dependency. One might also organize a group of family members and neighbors to share in keeping an eye on things. For certain individuals with more pronounced disabilities, communal living approaches are helpful and the community would be wise to invest in residential alternatives that provide structure, love, and value.
Routine is also important. One commentator surmised that in times past, many FAS children were probably placed in a religious setting. The strict rules and unwavering schedules would have been perfect for adults dealing with the problematic life of FASD. (1)
Finally, discourage any use or abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs. In the first place, alcohol is not in the best interest of a person affected fetally by alcohol. Secondly, although Scripture speaks against excessive drinking while seeming to tolerate a certain amount, abstinence is also Biblically encouraged. Proverbs 23:29-35, for example, is clearly a description of alcohol abuse. Further, when a person took a Nazarite vow, he agreed to abstain from wine or strong drink.
Taking care of the caregivers
Many caregivers are not the actual birth parents, but are extended relatives or foster parents. It is exhausting to be a caregiver to an FASD individual, and the job is never over. Be aware of your extended family and neighbors and be aware of when there might be need for prayer and respite. Caregiver support groups can also be helpful places of encouragement. For most effectiveness, develop support groups that are rooted in Jesus Christ.
However, while foster parents, extended family and biological fathers sometimes attend support groups, birth mothers rarely do. Many mothers are too ashamed to seek help in a group situation, and may need to be dealt with on a one-on-one basis. So remember to support birth parents along with the children. The children were born into the world with a life long disability and need life long support; but the parents need attention as well. While the temptation is to be angry and condemn those that have affected children through alcohol use, the more fruitful response is to reach out, pray for them, and help. To Jesus Christ, every life is important.
Yes, there are consequences to actions and it is important that people understand those consequences, but we must use reasonable expectations. If the parents themselves struggle with certain disabilities, they too might need a “benevolent guide.” It’s not just for the parent’s sake, but for the children and the community as well.
Helping children who have been affected by alcohol and preventing future incidences of FASD involves working with adults in need.
What would it take to make it possible for every woman in the community to make it through her pregnancy without using alcohol? Would every woman need the same intervention?
Sadly, short of a miracle, it isn’t possible to do away with FAS in every community. Alcohol is entrenched in almost every society, and history shows prohibition didn’t work.
Increased federal budgets will not solve the problem. Our world is a world suffering from the consequences of choice and sin. It isn’t possible to totally do away with the effects of that sin. This is one of those issues of such magnitude that only God’s intervention in the lives of individuals can make a significant difference.
While education and support of healthy living is the commonly accepted path to wellness, the importance of a strong relationship with Jesus Christ is often over looked. Within the professional Social Service community, the role of the Rescue Mission in helping individuals overcome addictions is rarely mentioned. (2) Although these missions reach only a small percentage of alcoholics, their approach has been amazingly effective. In ministering to individuals affected by alcohol, it is important to include the truth that lasting fulfillment is found only in Jesus Christ. This must be done, of course, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to when and how to communicate the Gospel. Individuals can not be coerced into accepting Jesus Christ. (3)
Ministering to individuals who are currently struggling with alcohol addiction or who have been adversely affected by alcohol involves personal commitment and prayer. Through prayer, we can encourage and support families in a healthy home life, healthy religious faith, and education concerning alcoholism, FASD, and the effects of both.
So we pray. And along with prayer for individuals, we can also pray for and work toward effective community education and outreach. Both mothers and fathers must understand the devastation that can occur to their children’s lives if they continue to drink.
For the sake of individuals, families, and society itself, it is necessary for communities to reach out in voluntary effort to their neighbors, family and friends in honest guidance and support: spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.
1. ” Psoba, “FAS in the 1700’s”, On the Trail of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, online article, 22 Mar. 2005, < http://journals.aol.com/psoba/OntheTrailofFetalAlcoholSyndrome
2. Gary R. Collins, Ph.d., Christian Counseling, (Irving: W. Publishing Group, 1988) 502
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
by Ann Pytkowicz Streissguth, PhD
Contact us at
Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare
PO Box 253, Hillsboro, ND 58045 – 0253