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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Doctors, parents urged to hold honest discussions about condition

ABC News logo ABC News 9/09/2016 Eliza Laschon
Dr Wilkins says the sensitive subject of FASD must be broached. © ABC News:/Charlotte Hamlyn Dr Wilkins says the sensitive subject of FASD must be broached.

Researchers are urging doctors and parents to hold honest conversations about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a condition caused by a baby's exposure to alcohol while in the womb. 

About 500,000 Australians suffer from brain damage, severe developmental delays, learning difficulties, memory impairment and behavioural problems caused by mothers drinking during pregnancy.

Earlier this year, researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Sydney released a national tool to diagnose the disorder.

They believe it is helping to diagnose the disorder earlier, more accurately and more consistently around the country.

But Telethon Kids Institute researcher Dr Amanda Wilkins said more needed to be done if the tool was to reach its potential. She said doctors and patients were often unwilling to broach the sensitive subject, but it was a necessary conversation.

"But at the same time there is a responsibility to the child to try to help that child have the best developmental outcome."

She also emphasised that the onus was on the parents to be upfront with their doctor.

"I think it's really positive if women are willing to be honest with their doctor," Dr Wilkins said.

"Then if their pregnancy is still continuing they have the opportunity to have some counselling to help them reduce their drinking behaviour and it will be a better outcome for the child."

Neil Reynolds says education is the key. © ABC News/Charlotte Hamlyn Neil Reynolds says education is the key.

Neil Reynolds is the foster carer for two children that were eventually diagnosed with FASD after the family noticed the children displayed symptoms. 

Mr Reynolds acknowledged there was a stigma attached to FASD, but urged parents to speak to their doctors honestly as early as possible.

"Now we've got the tool in place to diagnose, we now need to ... get it out into the public. We need to educate people that it's ... no-one's fault," Mr Reynolds said.

"Once it has occurred the only issue is to assist these children and to get the help that they need so they can live a productive life."

Today is International FASD Awareness Day.

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