Ann Streissguth, a pioneering researcher in FASD, did a study of 400+ people who had been diagnosed with an FASD, to pinpoint exactly what behaviors were associated with FASD. The study, published in 1996, not only created a portrait of the difficulties and strengths associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, but it revealed something interesting about individuals with FASD who were experiencing best outcomes, vs. the statistical high poor outcomes that most individuals with FA experience in adulthood: homelessness, jail, mental health and substance abuse issues.
Several factors differentiated those who were avoiding poor outcomes. Early diagnosis and identification, family education and support, involvement in DDS services and lack of violence in the home.
In other words, when primary caregivers know what FASD is, understand the brain differences in people with an FASD, and are supported in that understanding, this can prevent bad outcomes for individuals with FA.
No other intervention study to date has given us such powerful information, but several have verified that Streissguth and her team’s conclusions were correct:
- Petrenko, C. L., Tahir, N., Mahoney, E. C., & Chin, N. P. (2014). A qualitative assessment of program characteristics for preventing secondary conditions in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Journal of population therapeutics and clinical pharmacology = Journal de la therapeutique des populations et de la pharmacologie clinique, 21(2), e246–e259.
- Petrenko, C., Pandolfino, M. E., & Roddenbery, R. (2016). The association between parental attributions of misbehavior and parenting practices in caregivers raising children with prenatal alcohol exposure: A mixed-methods study. Research in developmental disabilities, 59, 255–267. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2016.09.005
- Petrenko, C., Pandolfino, M. E., & Robinson, L. K. (2017). Findings from the Families on Track Intervention Pilot Trial for Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Their Families. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 41(7), 1340–1351. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.13408
We cannot fix the brain damage caused by fetal alcohol exposure in utero. But we can create healthy, supportive family systems by providing quality FASD education and family support.
Changing the way we view behavior, examining our reaction to behavior, and understanding behavior as a product of brain function is the key. Understanding this and putting it into action are two different things, however. Putting it into action can be very difficult, especially if surrounded by people, family, professionals, and a society that sees behavior as a choice, no matter what brain differences an individual has.