Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Foetal Alcohol Disorder

I was going to carry on my story of early days in Tynwald - last updated in October - and maybe I will come back to that. However, I want to talk about something which I have found quite disturbing.

I was away last week for three days in Blackpool at the North of England Education Conference, a conference for educationalists and providers of children services, which was being held for the 104th year - so quite well established. A cheapish trip with Manx2, but so valuable.

With me was Stuart Dobson, deputy director of Education, who knows his educational stuff and he also gained a lot from the Conference. There were several interesting and important themes, more of which later perhaps, but we went to a subsiduary meeting on children with Special Needs, in particular variants of ADHD.

So here is the story.

In the Isle of Man we have nearly double the number of children with ADHD that we should have statistically. We thought that we were either over-diagnosing it or there is something about Manx culture/genetics to account for this.

But maybe not...

Despite having worked in Health now for nine months, and previously being in the DHSS, Foetal Alcohol Disorder rated barely a mention, and I knew no details of it, except that it was not wise for pregnant women to drink.

Here is what I learned in Blackpool.

When you drink alcohol, it stays in your body for about six hours, and your liver and the enzymes deal with it. If you are pregnant, your baby, until very late in pregnancy, has NO liver, has NO enzymes. The alcohol stays in the foetus and cannot be dispersed. The result is physical damage to the brain - babies are born with smaller brains, with brains with chunks missing (usually the part which deals with numbers and calculating) and the normal walnutty wrinkles of a properly developed brain are largely missing.

Children born with this brain defect are very verbose, but in most other areas have a much lower mental age. There is a very distinct physical look to the children as well.

Here is the worrying bit. One in a hundred children are now being born with this defect.

In the Isle of Man this equates to about 9 children a year. However, we were informed that FAD is often not picked up, but just generally included in with children with ADHD.

The problem with young women who binge drink is that it often messes up their mentrual cycle, and they do not realise they are pregnant until much later than normally. In the meantime, every drink does further damage.
I have no doubt that we drink alcohol more than most of the rest of the UK, and I know enough about our population to say that binge drinking by young girls in the Island is not uncommon.

And here is the speculation - but to Stuart and I, a bit of a light-bulb moment. Is our higher rate of ADHD accounted for by a higher rate of Foetal Alcohol Disorder?

We don't know, but are going to find out. I have started research with our Health Department and we need some answers. But most of all we need a very public information campaign to highlight how serious this problem is. I discovered in Blackpool that some Directors of Education and Children's Services had never heard of this syndrome, and the teaching of children with the special needs caused by FAD needs a radical rethink.

This syndrome is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE and the affected children have lives and attainment of a much lower standard than they should. If you know any young girls or women who binge drink, alert them now.

This my first step to raising awareness. I am a health amateur, and my cod reasoning may be shot down, but I will ask the experts to pick this up and give the public the facts.

We have huge campaigns about Drink Driving, which cause about one death every ten years - we need a campaign about Binge Drinking which is causing misery to at least nine, probably more children, every year.

If I can work out how to get photos and links, I will put them in the next post.

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