Modern medical science has made it possible to understand the structure and function of the brain. In the past, the role of brain differences in relationship to behavior was not well researched. Early articles about minimal brain disorders were met with scorn by people who believed the research was a way to excuse negative behaviors.
Today, brain research is allowing us to understand that many behavioral symptoms are actually symptoms of a brain dysfunction. The new research and advanced medical tools we have today, allow us to approach our feelings about behavior very differently. Linking the role of the brain and behaviors is important especially when raising a child who is drug or alcohol exposed before birth.
Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND) by definition have differences in their brain. They have a physical disability. There may not be any obvious signs of the physical disability and the only symptoms that may be seen are in the primary and secondary behaviors of the child.
If the behaviors are a sign of the physical disability then trying to change the behaviors of a child with FAS or ARND would be as effective as beating a crippled child who refused to get up and run. Children with FAS or ARND should be provided with environmental adaptations just as any other child with a physical disability would be given.
People with physical handicaps are routinely provided with environmental adaptations in order to help them reach their full potentials. Depending on what the need is, wheelchairs, ramps, guide dogs, Braille and other technology. Laws are in place to prohibit educational and employment discrimination due to disabilities.
Normal brain development is complex. Different parts and neurochemical developments take place in an unborn babies brain throughout pregnancy. Alcohol is a very small molecule and it passes freely into the placenta and fetus when consumed during pregnancy. Alcohol kills some cells, changes the normal migration of other cells and reduces the number of neuronal pathways. The Neuronal pathways are connections between different areas of the brain.
Different structural and functional changes in an FAS or ARND persons brain are affected and reflect which part of the brain was developing during the time a mother drank. Often affected are:
- Memory problems in storing and retrieving information,
- Sensory responses,
- Executive functioning and planning,
- Slower processing speed (thinking and hearing),
- Social and Cognitive developmental growth, and
- Abstract thinking.
People with FAS or ARND have disorganized brains and may have to work harder to accomplish simple tasks. PET scans show which parts of the brain are working on a routine task. In studies, when two children are asked to do the same task the brain of the average child “lights up” in the small of the brain used to accomplish the task. However, the brain of the alcohol exposed child lights up all over, nearly the whole brain is needed to accomplish the same task. The theory is that the more disorganized the child’s brain is, the more the child’s brain has to work, fatigue very often shoes up in irritable behaviors.
Some people believe that full FAS is the most sever form of alcohol exposure. However ARND is NOT necessarily less sever, only less visible due to the lack of physical changes.
In one study people with FAS/ARND were asked to describe their brains:
- “If someone opened the top of my head and looked in, you know what they’d see? They’d see a whole bunch of black holes.”
- “My Brain feels like Swiss cheese.”
- “I am the man with a mind like a steel sieve.”
- “There’s a wall in my brain. I know what’s behind it but I can’t always get over there.”
- “It’s like all the wiring is scrambled. Sometimes things just don’t connect.”
- “Inside my head it’s like there are all these sheets of paper. Today they are all blank.”
- “It’s like there’s a window in my brain and sometimes the window is open and sometimes it’s closed.’
None of these people between the ages of 8 and 35 had ever seen an MRI of brains with FAS/ARND Yet their descriptions seem to capture the current scientific findings indicating lesions or holes in the brain, neuronal disorganization, absence of the corpus collosum and other physical differences.
Next Blog:The Primary and Secondary behavior characteristics commonly seen with people who have FAS or ARND.
- At Least–3 Reasons Not To Drink While Pregnant.
- The One Reason to Never-Ever Have Even 1 Drink While Pregnant!
- Behavior Characteristics: For People Affected By Prenatal Alcohol Exposure
Source: Diane Malbin, MSW. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Trying Differently Rather Than Harder.Booklet.