What is it Really Like to Raise a Child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

How does prenatal exposure to alcohol damage the brain of the developing fetus? What type of behaviors are typical from children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)? What parenting techniques are effective for helping a child with FASD reach their full potential? We talk with Suzanne Emery, a Nurse Practitioner and Program Director at FASCETS (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Consultation Education and Training Services). She is also a mom to a son with FASD.

Hit the Highlights
  • How does alcohol impact the brain of a developing fetus?
  • What is the difference between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?
  • Does the impact differ depending on what trimester of the pregnancy the mother drinks excessively?
  • Difference between primary behaviors and secondary behaviors associated with FASD.
  • What are the primary behaviors most characteristic of the brain damage associated with FASD?
    1. Significant memory problems – short and long term
    2. Gaps in the thinking process including difficulty forming associations, predicting, abstract reasoning, and generalizations
    3. Slower pace of thinking, understanding and listening
    4. Impulsivity and distractibility
    5. Different responses to stimuli including sensitivity to lights, sounds, temperature, taste and touch
    6. Difficulty understanding cause and effect
    7. Difficulty weighing and evaluating, resulting in possible difficulty understanding safety and danger and possible heightened risk for victimization and exploitation
    8. Difficulty managing time, money, and schedules
    9. Dysmaturity (wide variation between developmental and chronological age)
  • How can this brain damage manifest at different ages? Typical behaviors at these ages?
    1. Infants and toddler
    2. Preschoolers
    3. Elementary school age
    4. Tweens and teens
    5. Young adulthood and adulthood
  • More likely to abuse alcohol or drugs?
  • Secondary behaviors develop from constant exposure to failure, frustration, and not being understood.
    1. Fatigue and frustration
    2. Anxiety
    3. Anger and aggression
    4. Withdrawing and avoidance
    5. Poor self esteem
    6. Difficulty making friends
    7. Depression and other mental health concerns including
    8. Opposition and defiance
    9. Self aggrandizement
  • Individuals with FASD are literal, concrete learners who tend to grasp pieces, rather than concepts. This means:
    1. Slower thinking and hearing speed
    2. Problems storing and retrieving information
    3. Difficulty forming links, associations
    4. Difficulty generalizing
    5. Difficulty with abstract concepts
    6. Difficulty seeing next steps/outcomes
    7. Disconnections: says one thing and does another
    8. Highly suggestible and thus at risk for exploitation
    9. Do not experience risk and rewards the way a non brain injured person would
  • Do people outgrow FASD?
  • How do parents need to adapt their parenting to be the best parent possible to a child with FASD? Parenting tips for parents of kids with FASD.

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Music credit: Michael Ashworth