What To Do When Your Child Is Struggling with FAS

FAS or fetal alcohol syndrome describes a list of various symptoms and diseases that arise when a baby was exposed to alcohol in utero. Some mothers can drink more alcohol during their pregnancy and have normal babies, and some mothers can drink less alcohol during pregnancy and have full-blown FAS. There is no amount of alcohol that is known to be safe during pregnancy and studies have not shown a correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and the severity of FAS. For this reason, all pregnant women and women who are trying to conceive are advised to avoid drinking alcohol. 

Signs of FAS include (but are not limited to):

  • physical abnormalities and deformities including wide-set eyes, small eyes, lowered ears
  • vision and hearing problems
  • heart defects
  • kidney and bone issues
  • small head circumference
  • slow growth
  • brain and central nervous system issues

Children with FAS have poor memory and may have social and behavioral abnormalities. This may manifest with poor performance in school and trouble forming bonds and friendships with peers. These children may have tantrums due to difficulties with changes and routine disruptions. Children with FAS are more prone to angry outbursts and mental illness such as depression, ADHD, and anxiety. Children who do not have obvious FAS symptoms may have difficulty getting a prior diagnosis and may therefore not get the proper treatment needed.

When raising a child with FAS, the first most important step is ensuring a proper diagnosis. Children with FAS can be diagnosed based on the prominent facial features, and/or a known past history of alcohol use during pregnancy. Biological mothers may not disclosure alcohol use to prospective adoptive parents or adoption agencies due to fear of being reported to authorities or losing benefits.

If you suspect alcohol use in pregnancy, or that your child or a child close to you could have FAS, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Children will need to have an evaluation by a pediatrician that will include getting a history and list of symptoms. A child with FAS may not have all of the symptoms, but visiting with various specialists may be necessary to rule out possible secondary disorders. Meeting with a behavioral specialist may help with behavioral issues and meeting with a counselor or psychiatrist may help with mental health illnesses.

If your child has been diagnosed with FAS, it is important to have a good relationship with teachers and your child’s principal to ensure that your child is getting the help and support needed at school. A child with FAS may need special resources to help him or her excel in school. For example, teachers may give additional time to complete assignments in school. 

It is important to find treatment when your child is struggling with FAS. As with many other types of medical disorders, FAS will require a team effort between parents, caregivers, doctors, and teachers. If you believe your child may have FAS and you are not getting the necessary resources and support from teachers and doctors, then keep searching until you find someone who will be an advocate for your child.

The following websites are helpful for parents of children with FAS:

National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Families Moving Forward Program

Families Affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

The FASD Trust

Centers for Disease Control