By Frances M. Harding, Director, SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
Imagine a life where you are misunderstood by nearly everyone you encounter, even your own family. You are different; you can’t say how, but you know you don’t fit in. You often struggle with things that other people do easily.
People become upset with you, you don’t understand why. You act out, you can’t say why. You repeatedly ‘fail,’ in school or at work or socially, when you thought you were doing your best. Forming friendships is difficult. People try to help you, but you can’t always grasp what they say. You are taken advantage of because you want so much to be liked.
You suffer physical problems; maybe you even look different. You go to doctors, but they can’t agree what’s ‘wrong’ with you. And maybe even your own family becomes so frustrated that you end up with another family. And then another.
If you can imagine this reality, you can begin to understand the world of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a range of behavioral, physical, and psychological impacts that can happen any time a fetus is exposed to alcohol in the womb. For years, people with an FASD were a hidden population; women were not given a clear message about the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy, and people with an FASD were often misdiagnosed.
SAMHSA is doing its best to change that and to prevent FASD by establishing the FASD Center for Excellence in 2001 and playing an important role in the growth of the FASD field over the last decade.
Join SAMHSA today in observing International FASD Awareness Day. At 9:09 a.m. on September 9, 1999, the first International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Awareness Day was observed. The date and time were chosen to mark the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month, which serves as a reminder that FAS, like all Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), is completely preventable if a woman does not consume alcohol during the nine months of pregnancy. Yet, alcohol-exposed pregnancies continue to be a leading cause of birth defects and intellectual disabilities in the United States, and those with an FASD often go unrecognized or are misdiagnosed, even as adults. Visit the FASD Center website for additional information on activities for International FASD Awareness Day 2013 at http://www.fasdcenter.samhsa.gov/.
Additionally, stay tuned for the release of a new Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) devoted entirely to FASD – one of the first publications of its kind. This new TIP, titled Addressing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, was created to help behavioral health providers do two things: 1) Prevent FASD by helping women who are or may become pregnant understand the risks of drinking during pregnancy; and 2) be able to identify people in treatment who may have an FASD and then better meet their needs.
SAMHSA understands that FASD has been a hidden public health crisis for too long.