Schools and public 'lacking awareness' of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and risks of boozing during pregnancy

More needs to be done to help children who suffer from the effects of overexposure to alcohol in the womb, experts have said.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 12:57 pm
Updated Monday, 27th January 2020, 1:55 pm
The issue was discussed at a meeting in Wakefield on Wednesday.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) causes life-changing difficulties for youngsters afflicted by the disorder, which is caused by mothers drinking during pregnancy.

Serious short-term memory loss, incessant talking and frequent temper losses are among the dozens of symptoms linked with the condition.

A 2018 study suggested that as many 17 per cent of UK children may have FASD, but on Wednesday, councillors in Wakefield were told that there remains a "lack of awareness" about the problem.

Experts say no amount of drinking during pregnancy is safe.

The area's children and young people scrutiny committee heard that schools and the general public do not know enough about the disorder to help sufferers.

A "bombardment of misinformation" about alcohol has also been blamed for leading mums-to-be to drinking during pregnancy.

Many of those born with FASD end up in the care system or with adoptive parents.

Lorraine Egan, who runs a support group in Pontefract for families affected by the condition, said that suffering children were unfairly labelled as "lazy, unmotivated and disorganised" because of their symptoms.

She said: "We meet once a month, and we share resources, we have a rant with each other and we cry with each other, because sometimes it's very hard.

"But our children are also funny and kind, and they have a lot of unique talents in many areas. Some of the time they are little monsters, but most of the time looking after them is fun, as well as being challenging."

Ms Egan said some schools were not equipped to properly help pupils with FASD. She told councillors that one sufferer had been taken out of their class' Nativity play after "singing too loudly", despite this being a symptom of the disorder.

An 18 year-old with FASD will typically have the social skills of a seven year-old, the emotional maturity of a six year-old and the living skills of an 11 year-old.

Clinical specialist Larry Anderson told the committee that the UK was "about 30 or 40 years behind other countries on this", but said with the right support sufferers can be extremely successful.

He said: "Some schools do get it and when they do it makes an enormous difference to that child's life.

"I know of two kids that I saw many years ago, who've both just qualified with decent degrees.

"One got a first in computer coding."

Committee chair, Councillor David Jones said he'd found the presentation "very, very informative."

He said: "It brought back to me a point in about 2005, when the school I worked at took on a student who was transgender, because it was deemed the most appropriate place for her.

"At that point there was no research in this country at all about how to support those with transgender issues. All of that was in America.

"Now it is far better researched than it was 15 years ago. Hopefully it won't take as long for that to happen with FASD."

Local Democracy Reporting Service