What the Church needs to know about FASD

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are a reality for many looked after children and their families.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that prenatal alcohol exposure can have on an individual. FASD is the most common non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, and yet it is entirely preventable.

“Of all the substances of abuse, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana,

alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects to a foetus.” [1]

A baby’s liver does not mature until the latter stages of pregnancy, so a foetus cannot process alcohol when it passes to them through the placenta, becoming a toxic substance to them. It can cause physical malformations and affect neurological development.

Unfortunately, in some cases, alcohol is consumed by women before they even know they are pregnant and although they may stop as soon as they are aware of their pregnancy, some damage may have already been done. Sadly, other women are unwilling or unable to stop consuming alcohol whilst pregnant and continue to drink regularly or binge sporadically throughout their pregnancy.

While it is absolutely not the case that all children with FASD will need to become looked after, nor is it that all looked after children will struggle with FASD, it is sadly true that FASD is a reality for many looked after children and their families so the Church must be prepared and equipped to welcome each one.

Every child is precious and unique, and each child with FASD is precious and unique.

FASD can affect language development, memory, attention, processing and understanding, emotional regulation, adaptive functioning, sensory impairment, social and relational skills, and a difficulty with abstract concepts, such as time, metaphor, or cause and effect – but this is in no way an exhaustive list, and children will not necessarily struggle with everything.

Alongside this, children with FASD will have a range of strengths and skills, and can often be especially caring and friendly, artistic, creative, musical, articulate, good with their hands, or display great levels of perseverance and commitment.

Given the range of these difficulties and these skills, and the knowledge that FASD will affect each child differently, those seeking to support children need to look beyond a ‘condition’ to see the child. As always, the foster carers or adoptive parents are the best and right people to advise on how to help their child engage and flourish, and they can help you consider the specific challenges each child is facing and develop intentional and meaningful ways of connecting with them.

One of the most significant things you can do to support a child with FASD and their family is surrender your expectations and assumptions, lay aside any feelings of judgement or blame, and simply walk humbly with the family offering love, grace, understanding and acceptance.

See the child as the wonderful individual that they are without focussing on their behavioural difficulties or hyperactive tendencies. Seek to provide them with opportunities where they can excel. Ensure they are in safe, secure and settled environments with people who they can trust.

Given that memory, language and abstract reasoning are often a challenge, be kind, clear and consistent in how you speak. A child may not remember a set of instructions from last week, and they may struggle with receiving multiple pieces of information at once. They may not understand the words or phrases you are using, especially if you are using metaphors like ‘raining cats and dogs’.

Children with FASD will be affected for life, through no fault of their own. With the right support and appropriate engagement they can still have great life outcomes, but all too often this is not the case. It is estimated that more than two thirds of children with FASD will have a disrupted school experience and many will have difficulty finding employment.

Be willing to adapt your processes, your language and your attitude wherever necessary, you could make a significant contribution to a child’s well-being, and the well-being of their family.

The FASD Network offer an incredible wealth of free resources to those who want to better understand and be better equipped to support. Find out more and access these resources through the FASD Network website.

The UK Church has such an opportunity to not only be supportive and welcoming to all families affected by FASD, but also to influence culture and help individuals in order to prevent more children being affected. What could you do to make a difference?

NB: While there may have been mixed messaging in the past, the Chief Medical Officers for the UK now recommend that the safest approach is not to drink any alcohol at all while you are pregnant, or if you are trying to become pregnant.

[1] From the Institute of Medicine, 1996 (reported by FASD Network, MOFAS & NCADD)

Author:
Home for Good, with the support of the FASD Network.


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