Fetal Alcohol Syndrome & Adoption: Adopting a Child with FAS or Alcohol-related Birth Defects

To receive a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a child must exhibit all of those characteristics. Children who do not have all these may be given a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE).

Another well-known term for an alcohol-related birth defect is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which is used to describe individuals who were exposed to alcohol while in the womb. Persons who are affected by prenatal alcohol exposure frequently have a wide-range of physical, behavioral, mental, and learning challenges.

Adopting a special needs child with one of these syndromes can be challenging for any parent. Weigh your options carefully.


FASD Statistics

Each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that 40,000 babies are born with some form of a FASD. Statistics for children who are in the foster care system are largely unknown. One study conducted by Washington State found that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was 10 to 15 times more prevalent among children in foster care than among the general population. This would suggest that children in foster care are more likely to have a FASD.

Internationally, numbers are more difficult to verify; however, in Russian orphanages it is estimated that the rate of FAS is one to ten in every 100 births.

Characteristics and Behaviors

Children with a FASD display varying degrees of symptoms. Behavior problems seem to go hand-in-hand with the disorder. Children with a FASD are often diagnosed with other behavior-related disorders, such as: Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Additionally, children with a FASD may have physical abnormalities and developmental delays.

Considerations Before Adopting

Caring for a child with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is costly, time consuming, and challenging. Children with a FASD frequently need constant supervision due to many factors. They typically behave much younger than other children their age, lack the ability to link their behavior with consequences, and may have medical issues related to the disorder. Although alcohol is not typically considered a “life threatening drug“, if you are trying to detox from alcohol it certainly can be.

If you are considering adopting a child who was exposed to alcohol before birth, ask yourself these questions before you adopt:

  • Are you willing to care for this child even into adulthood? Many children with a FASD are unable to go on to lead completely independent lives. The exact degree of dependency varies with each child.
  • Can you afford to care for a child with a FASD? It is estimated that the lifetime cost is $2 million. However, don’t let this deter you either. There are financial resources available to the adoptive parents of a child with special needs, including medical assistance and adoption subsidies.
  • Do you have the patience and capacity to cope with a mentally-impaired child? Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are, in fact, brain damage, and depending on the degree of brain damage, the child may function fairly close to normal or may be severely disabled. It is often difficult to determine the extent of impairment at birth, and it may take months or years to fully realize the full scope of the disability. If you do decide to adopt, educate yourself, and join a support group for parents of children with alcohol-related birth defects.
  • Do you have the resources to care for a child with a FASD, or are willing to seek out the necessary resources and services? During the child’s lifetime he may need therapy, special education, and access to specialized health care. It is vital to work closely with professionals in order to best assist your child in reaching his or her full potential.

Educate yourself and weigh the risks of adoption carefully. Ask for a full disclosure of the child’s family history, including any alcohol use during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is known to be safe during pregnancy, and alcohol causes more damage to the baby than any other drug. If your child is struggling with alcohol or drugs as an older child, read this article, to see what you can to do prevent and help them beat their addiction.

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