How to Diagnose FASD

  • Intellectual Problems
  • Sensory integration problems
  • Behavior and mood problems
  • Physical Problems
  • Birth Defects

The severity and number of symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) vary from person to person. Any one, or few, symptoms should no be enough to diagnose FASD. Specialists must conduct several tests and observe the patient over a certain period of time to establish whether the symptoms are FASD red flags or just independent conditions. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises parents to seek help as soon as they notice any of the red flags below.

1. Intellectual Problems

Children with FASD exhibit difficulty learning compared to the rest. Their problems with intelligence and learning are as a result of damage to their brains in the fetal stage. Doctors consider people with the normal intellectual capacity to be those with an IQ above 70. To be fair, most FASD children have IQs in the normal range, some even higher than the children without. Their characteristically slow learning is usually a result of memory problems and short attention spans. They are also very hyperactive, which further limits their ability to pay attention.

Parents should consult medical practitioners if their children show symptoms of learning disabilities such as problems with comprehension, reading, and abstract math. But, the professionals should not rush the diagnosis until they establish that the child’s inability falls way behind the level of the slowest ‘normal’ child. A child with FASD may exhibit delays or lack of abilities in language and speech: for example, they may interrupt or talk out of context.

Lack of executive function skills that limits the ability to plan, reason, or organize is also a major symptom. The patient may further demonstrate poor judgment when it comes to managing money or budgeting. It will also be difficult to make them understand the consequences of choices.

2. Sensory integration problems

Patients with FASD require more stimulation than the average person because they have a problem with sensory integration. Their senses are more or less heightened than normal, and they are more reactive to ordinary stimuli. A person with FASD is very sensitive to touch and may be intolerant to seams or tags in clothing. Others may need more touch than others, or may not feel any pain at all.

Other sensory symptoms include hypersensitivity to smells and dislike for bright lights. The symptoms usually occur in combination. That means that a person with FASD may notice smells more than others but still dislike touch.

3. Behavior and mood problems

Some babies with FASD are highly irritable and cry often, while others are unresponsive and very quiet. The babies may also act nervous and show signs of sensitivity to light or sound. As they grow, children with FASD exhibit behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and defiance. Some may abuse drugs and alcohol or show signs of mental illnesses such as psychosis depression, and anger problems. Due to lack of judgment, many FASD patients end up getting in trouble with the authorities.

4. Physical Problems

Babies born with FASD are born with a low birth weight, less than 5 lb 8 oz. They also feature a flat face shape, a head that is small in diameter, and mouth and face deformities including a cleft palate. Other distinctive facial features include smaller eyes, flatness between the nose, and a thin upper lips.

5. Birth Defects

Children with FASD may develop slowly or fail to reach their maximum potential of growth. They are usually short and thin and grow to become small adults. Some may experience muscle, joint, and bone complications, while others may have hearing problems and recurring ear infections. Other birth defects associated with FASD include genital deformities, heart complications, kidney problems, and visual and eye defects.

To diagnose anyone with FASD, health professionals should establish that the patient shows signs of at least three of the mentioned categories of red flags. Early diagnosis may reduce the severity of some of the conditions and help manage problems such as behavioral issues and learning difficulties.

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