LAST month a Newcastle couple opened up about the challenges of parenting their foster son, who had been diagnosed with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
“Every day is a battle for him,” the boy’s mother said. “It’s an internal struggle to understand what is going on, how to regulate and how to cope.”
FASD refers to a range of incurable, but preventable conditions, caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. The consequences for this boy were devastating. He was diagnosed when he was four with brain damage that will lead to lifelong learning difficulties, causing risky and aggressive behaviour. It is a diagnosis made all the more frustrating for the foster family by the knowledge that the condition was completely preventable.
Experts are clear: no alcohol is the only safe option for pregnant women. But that message has to contend with noise from friends, relatives and some websites, suggesting an occasional drink is fine. Removing the layers of confusing, often outdated advice, and teaching the bare facts is vital.
This is why news that Newcastle will be at the forefront of a federally-funded campaign to combat pregnant mums who won't quit drinking is so welcome. As part of the Make FASD History program, Newcastle is expected to receive $500,000 for a prevention program aimed to increase awareness, boost support and assist primary health diagnosis.
Or, in other words, to educate. To educate pregnant women that no alcohol is safe and abstinence is the only sensible option. To educate women who have drunk during pregnancy not to lie to their doctor. Lying prevents doctors considering FADS as a diagnosis and can lead to misdiagnosis, which is no good for anybody. And to educate doctors to be on the lookout for this condition, so children can get appropriate help as early as possible.
In 2008, earlier closing times and strict liquor laws were imposed across Newcastle to curb alcohol-fuelled violence. The program was so successful it became known as the “Newcastle Solution”. Newcastle Local Drug Action Team chairman Tony Brown was hopeful of similar success tackling FASD.
“We are very hopeful that we can achieve the same type of international breakthroughs in dealing with this hidden epidemic of FASD, which is all pervasive, knows no class or colour barriers, and is entirely preventable,” he said.
We’ll drink (a sparkling water) to that.