Responding to the Challenge of Early Intervention for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders


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Abstract

Prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to significant neurodevelopmental disabilities, now recognized as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This includes both fetal alcohol syndrome, a lifelong birth defect, and a wider range of enduring learning and behavior deficits often called alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). Diagnostic classification systems have been developed to identify children with FASD, and early interventionists from multiple disciplines can be central in identification and referral for diagnosis, and in providing the known protective influence of intervention early in life. With the recent federal mandates to better address needs of children born prenatally affected by substances, or those impacted by abuse and/or neglect, by referring them for screening and possible early intervention services, there is heightened need for providers to understand FASD. There is a growing body of research data describing the teratogenic effects of alcohol on central nervous system function and physical development, the diversity of children with prenatal alcohol exposure and their families, and the developmental and behavioral characteristics of this clinical population. This article reviews the latest research evidence, bearing in mind what is important to early intervention. This article also gives practical guidance on FASD prevention, methods for early screening, and referral of young children for diagnosis of FASD (and referral for needed services once diagnosed), and how to provide education, support, advocacy assistance, and anticipatory guidance for families raising children with FASD.

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