How to Cope With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Three Parts:Recognizing Common ChallengesAdopting Helpful Coping StrategiesGetting Appropriate Medical Help

Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy can cause a range of disorders to their developing baby, including fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can include physical or mental disabilities, as well as behavioral and learning problems.[1] FAS symptoms range from mild to severe and affect every child differently, but the damage lasts a lifetime. However, certain coping strategies are helpful for dealing with children with FAS and they can also make their lives happier and more productive.

Part 1
Recognizing Common Challenges

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    Watch for physical disabilities. The severity and extent of FAS symptoms depends on many factors, such as how often and how much a woman drinks alcohol, as well as what developmental stage the fetus is in. Regardless, FAS always involves some degree of physical disability. Common ones include small head and brain size, distinctive facial features, joint problems, slower growth rate, vision and hearing issues, and heart and kidney dysfunction.[2]
    • Distinctive facial appearance includes: small face, wide-set eyes, thin upper lip and a small upturned nose.
    • In general, people with FAS are smaller in stature and proportions compared to their cohorts.
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    Take notice of mental or cognitive disabilities. Although it depends on the timing and extent of a pregnant woman's drinking, all children with FAS have brain and central nervous system problems to greater or lesser degrees.[3] Common problems often include: mental retardation, lower IQ, learning disorders, delayed development, poor memory, reduced attention span, poor judgment, rapidly changing moods, hyperactivity and poor coordination / balance.
    • Children with FAS are invariable diagnosed with attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or something very similar at an early age.
    • Some kids with milder forms of FAS can stay in the regular educational system and may even get college degrees, but most need specialized education.
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    Be aware of social and behavioral issues. Due to their physical and mental disabilities, people with FAS also experience many profound social and behavioral issues throughout their lives. In essence, they have trouble functioning, coping and interacting with others because of their issues with processing information, reasoning, problem solving and understanding the consequences of their actions.[4]
    • In many ways, people with FAS have a lot of behavioral similarity to autistic people.
    • People with FAS typically have difficulty in school, trouble getting along with others, problems adapting to change, lose track of time, and can't make plans or work toward longer term goals.
    • Alcohol / drug abuse, criminal behavior, depression and inappropriate sexual behavior are all much more common in people with FAS.
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    See a doctor if you suspect FAS. If you drank alcohol during your pregnancy (especially during the first trimester) then you may have a strong suspicion that your child has FAS if they display the above-mentioned symptoms. However, if you adopted a child or are providing foster care and don't know their prenatal history, you should see a doctor (preferably a pediatrician) as soon as you notice physical, mental, learning and/or behavioral problems.[5]
    • An early diagnosis of FAS may help reduce the risk of long-term problems for an afflicted child.
    • On the other hand, let your obstetrician or pediatrician know as soon as you find out you're pregnant if you likely drank any alcohol after conceiving.

Part 2
Adopting Helpful Coping Strategies

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    Get support from others dealing with FAS. Once you've recognized unusual symptoms in your child and received a diagnosis of FAS from your doctor, you should seek support from experienced / trained medical professionals and other families dealing with FAS children.[6] Get a list of resources from your healthcare provider and spend quality time researching FAS-related websites online.
    • Knowing that you're not alone and don't have to learn everything from trial and error tends to be very reassuring to parents of kids with FAS.
    • Being able to get answers to your questions and having a sympathetic (sounding board" prevents parents from feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
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    Consider special education and social services. Children who receive special instruction focused on their specific needs and learning abilities are more likely to achieve their full potential. Families of children with FAS who participate in social services (such as counseling) increase their chances of having positive relationships and a more stable family dynamic.[7] Plus, with you child in the hands of competent people on a regular basis, you'll have more time for other aspects of your life.
    • As noted, kids with FAS have a wide range of behaviors and challenges that need to be addressed by trained professionals, such as counselors, social workers and healthcare workers.
    • Special education schools hire trained staff to specifically deal with the learning disabled. Plus, there are often less students per teacher in these environments, so more one-on-one time.
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    Provide a loving, nurturing and stable environment. All children prosper from a loving and nurturing home life. Children with FAS can be especially susceptible to turmoil, frequent moves, or destructive relationships, so consistent support from an understanding and patient family structure at home are essential.[8] A calmer child who feels loved, secure and stable will be much easier to cope with at home.
    • Positive family support and attention can help prevent secondary conditions related to FAS, such as criminal behavior, chronic unemployment and incomplete education.
    • Keep in mind that people with FAS bring a naivete to daily life situations, so they need constant supervision to develop patterns of appropriate behavior.[9]
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    Keep the home safe and free of violence. Those with FAS who live in calm, abuse-free households are less likely to develop violent and aggressive behaviors, which they are more prone to naturally because of their disabilities.[10] As such, don't allow domestic violence and severely heated arguments occur in your household. Children with FAS should learn how to control their frustration and anger early on.
    • Kids with FAS need to be taught other ways of channeling their anger or frustration, such as doing strenuous physical exercise.
    • Pointing out and using rewards to reinforce acceptable behavior is an effective way of steering a FAS child away from negative / aggressive behavior.[11]
    • Family counseling, where everyone participates, can be helpful in reducing moments of impatience, intolerance and frustration.
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    Deal with behavioral problems effectively. While communicating at home, keep things simple for your child by using concrete, specific language and lots of repetition in order to reinforce learning new things.[12] Don’t use words with double meanings, abstractions, idioms, etc. because their ability to understand is far below their chronological age. Keep it simple and consistent when talking to your child to limit confusion and forgetfulness.
    • Recognize your child's strengths and limitations when implementing daily routines and creating / enforcing simple rules and limits of behavior.
    • Stable routines that don’t change make it easier for people with FAS to know what to expect, which decreases their anxiety and makes them easier to cope with.
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    Sign up for parent training. Another great way to cope with a child with FAS is to get specific parent training because of all the special needs they have. Parent training is successful in educating parents about their kid's problems and it's able help them cope better with all the FAS-related symptoms and challenges.[13]
    • Parent training can be done in larger groups or just with individual family units. These programs are typically offered by therapists or counselors.
    • If their are two parents involved with a FAS child, it's important that both attend the training so they are "on the same page" with the techniques and coping strategies.

Part 3
Getting Appropriate Medical Help

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    Assemble a competent medical team. Children with FAS have such a diverse set of disabilities and problems, your family doctor or pediatrician is likely not able or trained to be the sole health provider. Instead, while your child is still very young, assemble a team that includes a pediatrician, an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist, physical and occupational therapists, a psychologist, a speech therapist and a special education teacher.[14]
    • Once these people are assembled it'll be easier to cope and experience less anxiety when your child needs their expertise.
    • Choose a medical facility that has many of these types of specialists under one roof, which will save you lots of time driving around to different locations.
    • Encourage communication between the members of your medical team for the most effective treatments and best results.
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    Use medication to impact behavior. No drugs have been approved specifically to treat FAS, but many types can help improve symptoms, such as hyperactivity, the inability to focus and depression.[15] Behavior and mood altering medication can make it easier for parents to cope with FAS children. The children also tend to do better in social environments and are more likely to score higher on tests.
    • Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin) are drugs used to treat ADHD, poor impulse control and other behavior issues.
    • Antidepressants help with depression, mood swings, aggression, sleep problems and anti-social behaviors.
    • Anti-anxiety drugs help treat symptoms of anxiety, stress and obsessive / compulsive thoughts.
    • Neuroleptic drugs can help treat aggression, irritability, anxiety and other behavior problems.
    • Medications affect each child differently, so your doctor might try different types and doses to get the best results.
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    Try alternative therapies. Although there are no alternative therapies that are proven to help FAS children (and none are recommended by the medical establishment), a number of approaches may be worth a try in efforts to improve your child's behavior and help you cope better. Some alternative treatments used for FAS include: biofeedback, relaxation therapy, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, regular exercise, acupuncture, massage, energy healing, animal-assisted therapy and various nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids).[16]
    • Before starting any type of alternative treatment, research it carefully and talk to your medical team about it.
    • These treatments can't fix the physical and mental damage done by FAS, but they may be able to relax and calm behaviors.


  • Carefully choose who cares for your child when you can't be there because some behaviors are difficult to manage
  • If you can't quit drinking, contacting a physician or participating in an alcohol treatment program is a step in the right direction.
  • Adults with FAS are more likely to have children. Their lack of judgment and impulse control, combined with a secondary condition of alcohol/drug abuse, may lead to unprotected sex and pregnancy.
  • Adults with FAS most often have problems maintaining gainful employment or living unaided.


  • Women should not drink any alcohol if they are pregnant, plan on becoming pregnant, or could become pregnant.

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Categories: Reproductive Health | Raising Children with Special Needs