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Ask the tough questions to bring Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder out of the shadows

Research News
Published: 
Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 8:47am

Clinicians need to ask questions about drinking in pregnancy to ensure cases of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are properly diagnosed, a Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) expert has warned.

Speaking ahead of an International FASD Awareness Day event on 13 September, MCRI Principal Research Fellow and University of Melbourne Honorary Professor of Paediatrics Jane Halliday described the disorder as a hidden condition.

“People can find it difficult to ask about alcohol use in pregnancy because of all the blame and stigma associated with putting a diagnosis of FASD on a child,” Prof. Halliday said.

“Diagnosis is so important, not only to better support the child, but also to support and inform the mother and family and reduce the risk of it recurring in future pregnancies if drinking continues.”

More than 240 clinicians, service providers, researchers, carers and families have registered to attend the International FASD Awareness Day event, which will include a keynote presentation on diagnosis by Gold Coast paediatrician Dr Doug Shelton, talks by clinicians and social workers and a series of workshops.

FASD can occur when a baby is exposed to alcohol in-utero, resulting in significant cognitive, behavioural, health and learning difficulties such as problems with memory, attention, reasoning and impulsivity. In some cases associated physical impairments such as small eyes and thin upper lips are also evident.

FASD is thought to occur in approximately three to five per cent of the general Australian population, but is much higher in specific populations including young people in youth justice facilities (34 per cent) and children in out-of-home care. An Australian study in one aboriginal community found a prevalence rate of 12 per cent.

Australian FASD experts are pushing for the condition to be included in broader developmental assessments by paediatricians and at a community level through routine maternal health checks.

Social worker Prue Walker, who will speak at the FASD awareness day, said specific diagnosis of FASD was vital to make sense of the behaviours and plan appropriate support for the child and their family or carers.

“Accurate diagnosis also allows us to predict other areas in which the person might struggle that might otherwise go unnoticed and means we can plan for the future more realistically and equipped with better information,” Ms Walker said.

Chair of the Victorian FASD Special Interest Group, Dr Kerryn Bagley, said these issues underpin the need for a dedicated awareness day.

“The aim of the event is to provide information about FASD for professionals and service providers in the community, and to offer a point of contact for further information and engagement”.

More information about the International FASD Awareness Day event at MCRI can be found here.

The event is supported by MCRI, Federation University and the FASD CRE in Western Australia