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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day turns Sweet 16

Since its beginning in 1999, New Zealand has been the first country to mark FASD Awareness Day on 9 September. Symbolising the nine months of pregnancy, the ninth day of the ninth month is marked by a ‘Moment of Reflection’ at9.09am, as it makes its way across the different time zones. The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the risk to the unborn baby from drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and to bring attention to the needs of those born affected by FASD.

Christine Rogan, FASD Project Coordinator for Alcohol Healthwatch and co-ordinator of the FASD network, says FASD is an umbrella term for a range of physical, cognitive and behavioural impairments caused by alcohol exposure during fetal development.

She says FASD is the leading preventable cause of neuro-developmental disability in the developed world, yet it remains one of the most neglected.

“Prenatal alcohol exposure can result in impairments that affect the physical development of the child but primarily it causes brain-based neuro-disability that substantially impairs day-to-day learning, functioning and social interactions. If left undetected or misunderstood this disability can result in serious social, emotional and behavioural dysfunction that can have dire consequences for the individual, their families and their community.

“Children with FASD are over-represented in school failure and trouble with the law. This can be avoided when everyone involved with teaching and caring for affected children and young people, knows what to look for and what to do to improve individual outcomes. Understanding the underlying cause of the problem can prevent further children being born similarly affected and that is very much worth the effort at every level.”

To help mark the day tomorrow, a forum is being held at the University of Auckland, School of Population Health. This builds on an ‘FASD Call to Action’ developed following a similar event last year.

Alcohol Healthwatch and the University of Auckland Centre for Addiction Research have brought together a range of FASD experts to further develop strategic approaches at the national and local levels. Speakers include economist Dr Brian Easton, who recently completed research on the cost of FASD on productivity. Also speaking is clinical psychologist Andi Crawford who will share what one community has begun to do differently to address FASD.

“FASD requires researchers, teachers, health professionals, care services and policy makers to work together with affected families to make much needed changes, and that requires everyone being fully informed to start with,” Ms Rogan says.

“When we are better able to identify these often hidden and misunderstood needs among vulnerable children, we are better equipped to effectively improve their life trajectory. Progress is far too slow and children continue to be born damaged by alcohol.

“Based on overseas studies and the known drinking patterns of women of childbearing age, New Zealand could expect up to 3000 babies a year to be born with FASD. Better information and action is needed to develop effective responses that can reduce the prevalence and societal impact of FASD.”


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