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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

By: Camphill Village

This disorder was given a name only in 1973 by the University of Washington and is a mental condition that is 100% preventable and 100% incurable.

It is an umbrella term for a spectrum of permanent brain conditions that can result from alcohol exposure to the foetus during pregnancy.

The Western Cape has the highest rate of FASD in the world. A study in 2012 indicated that 20% of women in this province had heavy alcohol intake during pregnancy. Between 60 000 and 72 000 of children born in South Africa each year are suffering from FASD – making it the most common birth defect in SA. There is an estimated 6 million sufferers in SA.

The common primary disabilities linked with FASD include:

  • Cognitive disabilities, that is slower cognitive pace, slower hearing processing, difficulty with memory, poor judgement, trouble with abstract thinking and trouble making choices.
  • Behavioural disabilities, including problems getting along with others, impaired ability to read social cues, lack of inhibitions, poor understanding and of personal boundaries and –space, immaturity, easily overwhelmed, vulnerable to peer pressure and influence.
  • Physical disabilities shown as delayed motor development, poor hand eye coordination, poor balance or coordination, lower height or weight and distinct facial features.
  • Sensory disabilities – the human sensory system is an important body system since it allows us to take in information about where we are in the world and what is going on around us. It includes the ability to taste, smell, touch, see, know our body position and perceived movement sensations.
  • Sensory impairments in individuals with FASD are often noticed during infancy and continue throughout the lifespan.

Secondary disabilities are those that are not present at birth but occur as a result of primary disabilities, and can presumably be prevented or lessened by better understanding and appropriate interventions.

The main categories are:

  • Typical mental health problems for example depression, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, hallucinations, schizophrenia and self harming. During childhood 60% of children with FASD have ADHD.
  • Disrupted school experience including suspension, expulsion or drop-out.
  • Trouble with the law usually involvement with police, charged or convicted of crime.
  • Confinement such as inpatient treatment for mental health, alcohol/drug problems or incarceration for crime.
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour manifesting in sexual advances, sexual touching, promiscuity, compulsion, voyeurism, rape, masturbation in public, incest, sex with animals and obscene phone calls.
  • Alcohol/drug problems.
  • Dependent living.
  • Problems with employment
  • Problems with parenting

Mitigating factors for secondary disabilities could include:
Early diagnosis, eligibility for intervention services( social welfare financial aid, education), living in a stable home, protection from violence, treatment for alcohol/drug abuse/ mental problems, behaviour management interventions, medication, other therapies e.g. sensory, audio and visual integration therapy and neurofeedback.