Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Category: Child Care


"The Broken Cord" is a powerful drama based on a true story which aired on ABC, February 3. It tells the story of a father who adopted a son and struggled against his many handicaps until discovering in the son's teen years that he had fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome affects thousands of children in our society because of the mother's drinking during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester. In past generations it was felt that moderate drinking was fine but now we know as little as a highball a day can potentially cause this dreaded complication. When I was a pediatric intern at Birmingham Children's Hospital in 1977 this syndrome was just newly described and I remember a beautiful little child who had unusual looking eyes and nose who had this condition. The mother was struggling with her guilt and her alcoholism, and the child was struggling to survive. The child ultimately died and I felt like I was trying to stop a roller coaster coming down. Most cases are not that severe. The children do survive infancy but struggle throughout life with learning problems and several other disabilities including hearing, muscle control, eyesight, joint problems, problems with their teeth and spine and even seizures.

The only avoidance of fetal alcohol syndrome is to avoid drinking in pregnancy. This powerful show is a reminder that pregnancy is a time when mothers need to take especially good care of themselves, follow their obstetrician's advice, eat properly, get enough rest and. by all means, control alcohol intake. Other drugs during pregnancy are also harmful and we are seeing thousands of cases of the effects of drugs such as cocaine and other abused street drugs.

Despite all this negativism there is hope. As we learn more about fetal alcohol syndrome and other drug related syndromes in infancy, we can better help these children to reach their full potential. We should always go the extra mile in society to help these innocent children as well as their guilt stricken parents. We are fortunate in South Louisiana that we have an early intervention program out of Lafayette and Opelousas which works hard with many experts in a team approach to help these children. I advise contacting the Pupil Appraisal Center for advice and help if you suspect any disabilities in your child. Also discuss this with your pediatrician or family doctor. The best way to help children with disabilities is to properly diagnose them, identify weakness and strengths, and develop a plan to maximize the strengths and overcome the weaknesses or, at least, work around them. The number of Pupil Appraisal Center is 948-3646 and the person to ask for is Mr. Aaron Washington, Special Education Director. The number for the high risk early intervention center in Lafayette, which serves all of greater Acadiana, is 988-1807 and the person to ask for is Suzanne Greenwood, Director.

One thing families who have handicapped children discover is that there is always hope. Despite what seems to be insurmountable odds, these children can be loved, nurtured and live a quality life. We are fortunate in 1992 to have good support systems for most of these children but we still have a good ways to go to provide for some who fall through the cracks. All of us in society should do our part to love and nurture these children, directly or indirectly, and to give their families all the support we can. The American Academy of Pediatrics is actively working toward this goal with their committee on disabilities which is responsible for most of the recent laws which provide for these children educationally and medically.