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New screening tool to detect FASD early

A new screening tool is being developed by the University of South Australia that is capable of detecting Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) early.

FASD has often been called the ‘invisible disability due to its high rate of non- or misdiagnosis among children.

The first of its kind to target young children, the new screening tool will capture the breadth of cognitive and behavioural difficulties experienced by children aged 4 to 12 living with FASD, according to the recent report.

The disorder is an impairment to the brain caused when a developing baby is exposed to alcohol.

Because it is a permanent and an incurable condition, people with it experience significant intellectual, behavioural, health and learning difficulties that impact every aspect of their lives.

Although a small percentage of children with the disorder will show a set of facial features, such as a short horizontal opening of the eye, an indistinct groove between the nose and the upper lip, and a thin upper lip, 80% will not show physical signs at all.

FASD is hard to diagnose because health professionals often do not know enough about the condition and this contributes to it being commonly overlooked or attributed to another cause.

Some of the behaviours exhibited by children with the disorder are hyperactivity, tantrums, impulsivity, difficulties understanding the consequences of their actions, poor social interactions, and learning difficulties.

Many of the identifying characteristics are also associated with conditions like Autism and ADHD.

In some unfortunate instances, these behaviours are explained as bad behaviour or poor parenting practices, which lead to misunderstanding and misdiagnosis.

Early intervention is necessary because without it, children with FASD risk having poor education outcomes. These include poor academic performance, suspension, expulsion, and drop out.

There are also mental health issues, alcohol and other drug problems and increased contact with youth justice to worry about.

Exact rates of the disorder are unknown in Australia, but international research shows that between 2% – 5% of the general population may be affected by it, showing higher prevalence than that of Autism.

The new screening tool is designed much like the tools used to screen for Autism and was developed from a range of resources.

It will highlight those children who should be referred to a team of health professionals for a full diagnostic.

Children with FASD can experience better outcomes if they are identified and accurately diagnosed early and provided with appropriate support.

Being informed and empowered with the right information at the earliest time will not only deliver greater support for the children, but also to their families, carers and teachers.

The ultimate goal is to give the children with the disorder the best chance to reach their full potential in life.

Trials will commence later this year to test the accuracy of the newly developed screening tool.