It’s estimated that over 40,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. who experience Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It’s possible that this number understates the issue, as so many women suffer from addictive disorders but may be too ashamed to answer honestly.
And can we blame them? When we hear that a child has a developmental disability, we (hopefully) pass no judgment on the child’s parents. Alcohol use during pregnancy is one of the leading preventable causes of developmental disabilities in children. When we hear the words “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,” however, blame towards the mother seems to rear its head almost immediately.
The byproduct of this blame is a culture of silence. Those who struggle with alcoholism are too ashamed to speak up, those who do are too uncomfortable to speak up. We are masters at masking this problem as a country, and the consequences are suffered by our most vulnerable population: our children.
There are doctors every day that see this disease in their office and say nothing, instead remain silent. There are priests and ministers that see it every day and remain silent for fear or uncertainty of how to address the issue.
We need to start engaging a dialogue about FASD with physicians, and 1) encourage training on how to identify FASD, 2) discuss how to address and treat the issue without shaming family members, and 3) engage the general public regarding FASD.
Most people don’t recognize it as a leading and preventable cause of developmental disability issues, and yet we have magazine articles suggesting that it’s acceptable, even encouraged, for pregnant women to have a glass of wine now and then. It hasn’t been proven that any amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy. We need to pursue an approach to the public that is straightforward. By discussing FASD openly, in terms of addiction as the disease that it truly is, we can hopefully encourage greater numbers of women and families to seek the help that they need so that their children can flourish.
If you are a clinician working with pregnant women or children, have a loved one experiencing FASD, or simply want to learn more about FASD, I encourage you to explore these resources: