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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the leading cause of birth defects and developmental and learning disability worldwide (Mather, Wiles, & O'Brien, 2015). FASD is a brain based disorder caused by the impact of alcohol on the growing fetus. Alcohol readily crosses the placenta and is teratogenic, causing damage to the central nervous system and other organ systems, as well as impairment to prenatal and postnatal growth (Fitzpatrick & Pestell, 2016; Bower & Elliott, 2016). FASD is described as the ‘hidden harm’ as it is often under-recognised and goes undiagnosed as children will not always show physical abnormalities despite being profoundly affected (Bower & Elliott, 2016; McLean, McDougall & Russell, 2014).
Due to ‘unhealthy relationship’ the Australian population has with alcohol, as well as a transgenerational acceptance (Adubato & Cohen, 2011)that drinking during pregnancy is safe, the full understanding and impact of FASD is yet to be entirely understood in the Australian context (Fitzpatrick & Pestell, 2016). With the presence of FASD occurring in all populations, there is a stronger presence in high risk communities such as remote Aboriginal communities and children in care (Fitzpatrick & Pestell, 2016). Additionally, with the social-emotional, neurophysical and behavioural difficulties that come with FASD, there is a higher presence of individuals living with FASD in the criminal justice system, adding complexity to the societal issues around the disorder (Fast & Conry, 2009).
The latest data collected by the National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013 suggested that 50-60% of women drink during pregnancy (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2014). This figure is alarming and needs to be a cause for concern amongst health professionals. Most pregnant women are reported to cease drinking once they find out they are pregnant, however one in four continue to consume alcohol through the duration of the pregnancy (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 2014). With FASD being a nationwide issue with harmful impacts on multiple populations, it is imperative that the message that there is no safe amount of alcohol for those who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or could be pregnant is well understood by the Australian community as a whole.
Contacts and Links
National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (NOFASD, Australia)
NOFASD Australia is dedicated to reducing the harm caused by alcohol exposed pregnancies and improving lives for those living with FASD.
Phone: 1300 306 238
Telethon Kids Institute - FASD/Alcohol and Pregnancy Research
Office: + 61 8 9489 7635
Mobile: 0437 575 875
Office: + 61 9489 7963
Mobile: 0408 946 698
Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD
National Health and Medical Research Council - Alcohol and Pregnancy Information
The Australian Medical Association Position Statement of FASD
Responding to the impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Australia – A Commonwealth Action Plan