Thank you to all the families who came along to our Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) online workshop in May 2023, with Dr Cassie Jackson, Clinical Psychologist, supported by Julie Furney, Director of FASD Hub South West.
Cassie made reference to a new field of research where parents talked of the ‘dysregulation’ they see, the sudden ‘switch of emotions’ which can seem uncontrollable or what they see is for no obvious reason. One parent asked:
“Is this more sensitive in children who have been exposed to alcohol in the womb?”
Cassie’s passion and ongoing research into FASD led her in sharing more about:
Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and how does alcohol impact it?
Why is it so hard for a child with FASD to keep it together in challenging situations?
How can we help support a flipping lid with a child with FASD?
- Alcohol causes significant changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is in addition to the changes experienced at a lower brain stem/amygdala level (this part is what we know of when we talk about trauma responses)
- Alcohol causes elevated corticosterone and adrenocorticotropic levels
- Alcohol organic brain damage (FASD) increases the natural stress response, poor regulation of emotion, low frustration tolerance
- Life long propensity for anxiety, depression and other affect regulation disorders (primary effects)
HPA Axis – so what does that all mean?
The impact of alcohol makes children much more ‘sensitive’ to any stress or change triggering stress…. they are hypersensitive to it.
In this regard, Cassie went on to say that children who have not experienced trauma but have been exposed to alcohol in the womb are likely to display exactly the same response as a child that has experienced alcohol, trauma and fragmented primary attachments.
So therefore if you are in any doubt about FASD this behaviour response may give it away and guide you in seeking more information or answers to what you are seeing by questioning poorly informed professionals who ‘blame trauma or attachment’, as it is more likely to be the organic brain injury caused through alcohol.
What you might see she says when she describes FASD is above and beyond other children, you may know who experience trauma responses. It is the alcohol that causes the ‘organic brain damage’ and the response to stress through the HPA axis.
The HPA axis is a major neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality, and energy storage and expenditure. It is the common mechanism for interactions among glands, hormones, and parts of the midbrain.
This 2-minute short explanation is helpful to identify the medical part of how this all works (watch on YouTube):
Cassie has promised to return to us with more information on this topic.
- More research on picking apart FASD and Trauma with helpful strategies to support can be found in Dr Alan Price’s paper here.
- A good source of support for older children/young people/adults: Creating environments that support success (page 16 onwards).
FASD Hub South West hope to book Cassie as an online guest speaker to highlight this area of research. If you would like to be added to the group’s distribution list please contact email@example.com
Article source: FASD Hub South West