Most often when we hear about fetal alcohol syndrome, it relates to how it has a direct impact on newborns, toddlers, and small children. Fetal alcohol syndrome can have long-term and life-long effects on teens and adults. There are therapies and treatments to help manage the symptoms but there is no direct cure.
If your teen is struggling with fetal alcohol syndrome, it’s essential that you know the signs and symptoms and know the best path to take to help your struggling teen.
Understanding the basics of fetal alcohol syndrome
More of a spectrum disorder with conditions that can range in severity in individuals, fetal alcohol syndrome is found in those exposed to alcohol before they were born. There is no known safe amount of alcohol for pregnant women to consume. Those who have fetal alcohol syndrome may have physical, learning, and behavioral problems.
When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, it passes through to the baby via the umbilical cord. There is also no known safe period during pregnancy for a woman to consume alcohol.
Fetal alcohol syndrome can be prevented if the mother avoids alcohol and doesn’t expose the baby to alcohol in utero.
Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in teens
How familiar are you with some of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in teens? Could it be that what you perceive to be poor decision-making and behavioral issues is actually attributed to fetal alcohol syndrome?
Some of the physical symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome could include some of the following.
- Coordination concerns. From an early age, your child may have had problems with walking or may have been a delayed walker. He may struggle with activities like catching or throwing a ball.
- Lowered body weight when compared to peers. Each child grows at his or her own pace. But from a young age, your child may have struggled to keep up with the growth seen in other children his age. His weight may almost trend towards the lower end of the spectrum.
- Concerns with the heart or kidney. Of course, these concerns can range in severity. Not all teens with fetal alcohol syndrome will have these potentially serious health concerns. If your teen does, however, it’s important to keep up with the guidance provided by his healthcare team.
- Hearing or vision issues. As with other physical health concerns, hearing or vision problems can range in severity. Your child may have minimal hearing loss and need to wear glasses to correct his vision. If he has been acting up in school, it might be that he is struggling to see. Many parents are often surprised to learn that poor behavior in the classroom can be directly attributed to vision problems.
- Shorter in height when compared to peers. Many factors can contribute to your teen’s size, including genetics. Those with fetal alcohol syndrome tend to trend to the shorter end of the scale. This is not the case with every teen, of course.
It is also possible that some teens may also struggle with intellectual delays, which of course, can range in severity. Some may have lowered IQs which makes it more of a challenge for them to keep up in classes at school. Speaking with your teen’s teachers at school and guidance counselors can help to keep your teen’s education on track. Modified lesson plans and accommodations may be what your teen needs to keep up.
Some of the additional symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome could include the following.
- Attention span difficulties, including fidgeting and appearing to check out while others are speaking. This can also become a concern at school. ADHD may be something that your teen is struggling with.
- Concerns with memory. Your teen may find it a challenge to retain the information that you’ve told him. He may not be openly defying you when he doesn’t take out the trash like you’ve asked him to do. He may genuinely have forgotten to take care of it. Helping your teen with organizational and time management solutions may help to better his memory.
- Hyperactive behavior. ADD, and ADHD can lead any child to be disruptive in school. If your teen is struggling with it, he may need more help than what his teachers can handle.
- Challenges in school with learning and retaining information learned in lessons. Many teens with fetal alcohol syndrome have problems with school. They may do well in one class but struggle in another. Math tends to be one of the areas that teens struggle.
- Language and speech delays. Some children do simply speak later than others do. A child with fetal alcohol syndrome may have a language and speech delay that accompanies them into kindergarten. Working with the right types of therapists can help to ensure your teen is on the right track with his speech delay.
- Poor judgment skills. Your teen may struggle to make the right decision when faced with a choice. This could include being faced with the option to take drugs or skip school. The resulting behavioral issues from a lack of good judgment in teens could lead parents to believe they just have a terrible teen on their hands. In truth, your teen struggles with making the right decision. Impulsivity will also come into play when it comes to a lack of judgment skills.
- Poor reasoning skills. This can often go hand-in-hand with your teen struggling with judgment skills. He may not be able to make the right decision because he’s unable to consider and process all of the alternatives that could arise from the situation.
If your teen has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, how can you best work with him to address the concerns that he is living with?
Work closely with his teachers, school counselors, and the other significant adults who play a role in his life. By ensuring that you’re all on the same page when it comes to your teen, you’ll be able to offer him the consistency that he needs.
Speak to his pediatrician about ensuring his physical health needs are being met. This may include getting his hearing and vision often tested to make sure that there haven’t been any changes impacting his behavior in school.
Discuss the challenges that your teen faces with him. Help him understand that you are in his corner and that you will do your part to help him work through even the most challenging situations he encounters.
Get your teen the correct type of therapy. There are several therapeutic options that can help teens who were born with fetal alcohol syndrome. The combination of treatments that work for your teen will depend on the struggles that he is faced with.
Ultimately you want to help your teen to find a level of independence so that he can live a good and healthy life when he is an adult. If you believe that your teen could benefit from additional help and treatment, speak with a Help Your Teen Now team member. We have access to the resources that parents and teens can both benefit from.