Getting help to kids mislabelled as “just naughty”, when they have an unrecognised disability caused by alcohol-related brain damage that occurred in the womb, is a major commitment made by the Telethon Kids Institute.
Already, early intervention in their child development problems triggered by the mother’s alcohol use in pregnancy has been made possible by the institute’s work to establish an agreed-on set of tests and measurements for diagnosis of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Australia.
The diagnostic instrument, formulated and being implemented under a contract with the Commonwealth Department of Health, is aimed at ensuring earlier and better-suited assistance is provided to deal with all disability caused by alcohol crossing the placenta and disrupting the development of the growing baby’s brain.
In particular, it will be used to identify and aid young children who had no obvious physical signs at birth indicating their alcohol-related brain damage, yet, as they grow, their disability puts them at greater risk of poor school performance, mental health problems, unemployment, substance abuse and early contact with the justice system.
This is due to FASD-associated learning and behavioural problems, poor decision-making and judgement skills and developmental delay.
In the past, failure to recognise FASD, has resulted in some children being treated only for conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dismissed as “just naughty”.
“Hopefully, by getting an FASD diagnosis, different management plans can be introduced to help these kids be the best they can be,” Telethon Kids Institute head researcher Professor Carol Bower said.
“Parents have told me it was such a relief to get an FASD diagnosis because now they know it’s not that their child ‘won’t do it’ it’s because they ‘can’t do it’.”
When the institute’s “Australianised” diagnostic instrument, based on similar instruments produced in the US and Canada, is finalised and distributed across the country, it is hoped it will provide a more accurate estimate of the number of Australian children with FASD. It’s also hoped it will result in better reporting, management and prevention programs.
“There is definitely room for improvement in diagnosis,” Professor Bower said.
“Even in locations where FASD is thought to be very high, children are not being diagnosed.”
The new diagnostic instrument includes criteria for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, identified by distinctive facial features, poor growth and abnormalities of the brain or neurological problems.
It’s also for Neurodevelopment Disorder-Alcohol Exposed, where children may look normal but have functional, learning and behavioural problems. “We are now in the process of refining the instrument and will be askingpediatricians and other clinicians to use it and advise us on its feasibility,” Professor Bower said.
The Telethon Kids Institute continues to lead Australia in identifying and addressing many important gaps in knowledge about alcohol use in pregnancy and its effects.
Found on: http://health.thewest.com.au/news/2055/when-alcohol-invades-the-womb
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