Fetal alcohol syndrome is still stigmatized

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Akila Clark, far right, with parents, Barb and Michael, and siblings, from the left, Imani, Zeke and Hezekiah.

When Barb and Michael Clark adopted their oldest daughter, Akila, at 5 months old, they never envisioned the difficult road ahead. The Minneapolis couple couldn’t see the brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, but it didn’t take them long to realize something was wrong.

“As soon as she was walking and talking I knew things were a little off,” Barb Clark said. “Consequences never worked for her, and she was 2 years old when she stole for the first time.”

While “stealing” is a typical behavior for toddlers who don’t yet understand the concept, Akila’s early tendency to take things and to not learn from any consequences was concerning. Other behaviors — such as her high energy, attention-seeking and sleeplessness — caused the couple to seek guidance from medical professionals, but their concerns were often dismissed.

Finally, Clark began researching some of the behaviors online and found sites about Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Finally, at age 6, Akila was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Akila, who now is 18, is one of the thousands of children and young adults in this country living with FASD, which is the umbrella term for Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

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