A young man rises above his Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Studies show many social drinkers may worry too much about the possibility of F.A.S.
Paul, who turned 25 on his last birthday, is a delightful young man. When he comes home for the weekend, he fills our house with his talented piano playing and is always ready for a game of cards.
Paul is small in stature. His mental development is slow. When he came to live with us at 15 months of age his physical and mental development was not much beyond the newborn stage.
It took many years to catch up.
Paul received most of his education in a multi-handicapped class in a local public school. After graduating he finished an integrated course in Early Childhood Education at Humber College. He enjoyed that very much and to his pleasure he is now working as a kindergarten teacher’s helper.
As happens with many children that grow up, Paul has left home. He shares a house in Smithville (Niagara Peninsula) with Phil. Phil also is a mentally handicapped adult. They are supervised by the “Anchor Canadian Reformed Association for the Handicapped,” a Church-based organization which runs a home with eight adults and one “Independent Living Program” facility. Their supervisor, Lois, does an excellent job. She helps them with shopping, banking, cooking and cleaning and makes sure they get to work on time and brush their teeth.
Paul was born the youngest of a large family. His mother had difficulty staying above it all and had been drinking heavily while pregnant with Paul.
Around the time of his birth, a young pediatric resident at the Seattle Washington County Hospital had been troubled and intrigued by her observation of “the failure to thrive” of babies born to chronic alcoholic mothers. She pursued her suspicion of a link between fetal deficiencies and alcohol consumption by pregnant women. Four years later the result of two studies by Dr. K.L. Jones and Dr. D.W. Smith was published in the British Medical Journal Lancet. They recognized a distinct clinical entity and named it “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
Like most syndromes, FAS is not based on a single feature, observable in all cases, but shows a variety of physical, mental and growth abnormalities. In most children, the same distinctive physical characteristics and a similar pattern of deformities can be identified.
Some infants may exhibit a full range, others only a few. However, certain features, such as pre- and post-natal failure to attain normal length and weight, unusually small head circumference, and fore-shortened eyelid openings, are found in most instances.
Other characteristics include mental deficiency, head and facial deformities, joint and limb abnormalities, cardiac defects, and central nervous impairments, which result in a weak grasp, poor eye-hand co-ordination, hyperactivity and sleep disturbances.
There is a long warning history. A connection between alcoholism and disabled children has been made since the time of the Greek and Roman empires. Plato and Plutarch made reference to it and Aristotle is reported to have said: “Foolish and drunken women most often bring forth children like unto themselves.”
In 1934, a committee investigating drunkenness, submitted that the offspring of alcoholic mothers often have a “starved and shrivelled and imperfect look.”
In the following era of relaxed laws and customs concerning alcohol, the medical profession accepted the widespread and sadly erroneous explanation that defective children merely inherited their alcoholic parents’ personal and generic insufficiencies.
Levels of risk
From studies of both animal and human subjects, it is apparent that the risk of damage to the pre-born baby increases with the volume of alcohol consumed.
It is estimated that between 300-700 Canadian children are born with the syndrome each year. It affects 30-50% of children whose mothers severely abused alcohol during their pregnancies, (six or more drinks a day). In the Toronto Sun (Sept. 16, 1994) Elaine Moyle in her “parenting” column says: “An alarming number of social drinkers, fearing fetal alcohol syndrome, are seeking abortions. Most are women who unaware of being pregnant, consumed small amounts of alcohol during the first months of pregnancy.”
She quotes Dr. Gideon Koren of the Hospital for Sick children and Director of the hospital’s Mother Risk program – a telephone information service that dispenses drug, medical and environmental information to pregnant and breastfeeding women – “Clearly, information today shows that rare social drinking occurring in women who didn’t know they were pregnant has never been associated with any adverse effects. It does mean telling women who drank into pregnancy not to drink. But it is important not to equate very minor drinking early in pregnancy with termination. Agencies touting the message that even one drink can harm an unborn baby are ‘alarmist.’ It is wrong information. There’s no research to suggest it.”
“Abortion,” he points out, “may pose a risk to the fertility and mortality of women who undergo the procedure.”
Paul is a very valuable member of our family and of our society. He also is a unique person in the eyes of God. He has a very simple faith, which does not question.
He too was created for a special purpose and task in life. We (his parents, brothers, sisters and everyone who meets Paul) are glad he was born.