The Tamworth region is suffering at the hands of a completely preventable disorder that results in cognitive, physical, and social disabilities in children, and a local health professional is screaming out for more to be done.
Centacare Principal Psychologist Josefine Hofman said that “Tamworth and the Hunter New England area has one of the highest rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the state”.
The spectrum disorder is a direct result of mothers drinking during pregnancy, which affects neurodevelopment.
Sufferers can present a range of symptoms, all incurable. These include facial disfigurement, problems with hearing, vision, memory, attention span, and importantly their ability to learn and communicate.
The answer according to Mrs Hofman is simple, yet “very frustrating”.
“There is no safe amount of alcohol to drink if you are pregnant,” she said.
“This is a real issue in our community. People are talking to each other and noticing higher rates of FASD and higher rates of alcohol abuse coming through the services – we are seeing it all the time.”
“FASD is avoidable. It is completely avoidable.”
While FASD has been around since alcohol was discovered, the disorder was only discovered by medical authorities in 1973.
The reason that it has not come to as much prominence as other disorders, until now, has been that sufferers often present similar symptoms to autism, ADHD, and Oppositional Defiance Disorder.
“It is very under-diagnosed,” Mrs Hofman said.
“There is not much education around it and professionals need to be more pro-active in the process. People are under-estimating the risk, and creating their own moderating factors.”
“It is much more prevalent than people are aware of, and is causing a range of issues in our schools, our services and in general.”
Centacare and a range of other services have recently come together to prepare and launch a local campaign, aimed at raising awareness and education around FASD.