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Children with FASD face anxiety, depression

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) face anxiety, depression and delinquency, along with a range of other behavioral problems, a new review of evidence has found.

University of Sydney’s professor Elizabeth Elliott, senior author on the study, said the findings highlight the need for strategies for early intervention, "both to help children with self-regulation and to support teachers and caregivers in managing behaviour at school and at home".

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the research described behaviours observed by teachers and parents, using an empirically based assessment system, and uncovered three main types of behavioural problems in children with FASD.

These were internalising behaviours, such as anxiety; externalising behaviours, such as aggression; and other problems, such as difficulties with social skills, thought processing and attention.

Study lead author Dr Tracey Tsang said: “Our findings allow us to create a behavioural profile for FASD based on multiple studies from around the world and will inform the assessment and treatment of FASD.”

Elliott said alcohol use in pregnancy is common in Australia, with up to 80 per cent of women reporting that they consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

She said FASD is characterised by birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems. “Worldwide, including in Australia, FASD is increasingly recognised by health professionals, teachers and the criminal justice system as a cause of difficult behaviour, learning problems, and contact with the justice system.”

The behaviours seen in FASD impair social interactions, academic performance and mental health, Elliott added. “Without appropriate assessment and treatment, these children experience lifelong difficulties with mental ill health, substance abuse and unemployment and many are unable to live independently.”

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