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Physical Therapy Can Help Children With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are conditions that result in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. The effects can include problems with learning and behavior, as well as issues with muscle tone. At FOCUS in Fort Myers, we know that early diagnosis and early intervention can make a huge difference in a child’s long-term prognosis. Physical therapy is one aspect of that plan.

There is no lab tests that definitively proves a child has fetal alcohol syndrome, and many of its symptoms can reflect conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Federal data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals there are as many as 1.5 infants with FASDs out of every 1,000 live births. One recent study found that 1 in 10 pregnant women reported using alcohol use (at least one drink) at some point during her pregnancy and 1 in 33 reported binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks at a time) in the previous 30 days.

Therapies must be tailored to each individual child because fetal alcohol syndrome can affect children differently. As noted by WebMD, symptoms of the condition may include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Trouble with coordination, attention and memory
  • Hyperactivity
  • Struggle with sleep/ nursing (infants)
  • Problems with bones, kidney or heart

These symptoms can worsen if not treated. Although FASDs are not curable, they can be treated and their impact lessened. Those who are diagnosed and treated before the age of 6 show the best outcomes. 

How Physical Therapy Helps 

Children with fetal alcohol syndrome may first begin to show signs as babies. One of those is low muscle tone. Although that can be difficult for a parent to assess, one might look for things like:

  • Infant avoids tummy time (which is highly recommended when the child is awake);
  • Infant struggles to lift his or her head;
  • Infant is unable to sit without support by 8-months-old.

Physical therapy can help even small children work on these gross motor skills, helping them achieve important milestones to keep a better pace with their peers.

Fine motor skills too may be affected. These can include:

  • Infant has trouble reaching for objects;
  • Infant has trouble grasping for objects;
  • Infant shows general lack of curiosity/ facial regard for parents.

As the child gets older, a physical therapist – and occupational therapists too – can help a child with FASDs work on important fine motor skills and life skills such as:

  • Learning to feed herself;
  • Learning to dress herself;
  • Learning to look at books/ play with a toy.

Early Intervention for Optimal Outcomes

These skills are important because children with FASDs may often struggle with issues of maintaining their attention span, self-regulation and self-soothing.

We also tend to see with these children hypersensitivity to light, sound, taste, touch and smell. These sensory processing disorders can be treated with help from your occupational therapist and physical therapist in Fort Myers, who often work together closely to ensure the best outcome for the child.

While the brain continues developing until a young person is 25, we know that so much growth and development happens before the age of 3. If we are able to intervene with a child by that point, we can help your child make significant strides to overcoming some of the most challenging symptoms associated with fetal alcohol syndrome.

FOCUS offers pediatric physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Therapy helps a child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Sept. 25, 2017, By Jill Daly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Blog Entries:

“Bad” Behavior in Kids Could Signal Need for Occupational & Speech Therapy, Aug. 26, 2017, FOCUS Fort Myers Physical Therapist Blog

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