The Arc Taking Lead on Educating Medical Professionals on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders with New Federal Grant Award

Washington, DC – Building on The Arc’s long history working on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) prevention and providing services to people with FASD, The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a more than $1.3 million cooperative agreement over three years from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau to increase the education of medical professionals regarding alcohol-exposed pregnancy and change clinical practice to better prevent FASD.

Drinking while pregnant can cause FASD, a preventable form of intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD).  Yet according to HRSA, 22.5% of pregnant women drink alcohol and many health care providers advise women that light drinking is safe.  Providers need education on drinking during pregnancy, screening tools and interventions that can prevent FASD.  The Arc, with the support of its national partners, will develop trainings including webinars, peer learning communities, and continuing medical education (CME) courses for allied health professionals, and create and disseminate culturally appropriate materials.

“This grant is a tremendous opportunity for The Arc to make a real difference in how the medical community views the risk of drinking while pregnant.  Working with key players in the medical sector, we expect to dramatically change the conversations happening in doctors’ offices,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc will work with The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, The National Hispanic Medical Association, The Association on American Indian Affairs, and the National Association of City and County Health Officials to carry out this grant.  The goal of this project is to increase provider knowledge of the risks alcohol poses during pregnancy and encourage prevention by:

  • Conducting a comprehensive needs assessment on the educational needs of providers;
  • Developing an educational plan for increasing provider knowledge of FASD prevention;
  • Working with national professional associations to create culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials for a range of health care providers;
  • Disseminating materials to providers via national organizations’ networks and other channels; and
  • Assessing the impact of educational efforts on provider knowledge, practice, and prevention.

This award to The Arc comes at a particularly opportune time to capitalize on important changes in our health care system.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, all health insurance marketplace plans and many other plans must cover select preventive services, including alcohol misuse screening and counseling, without charging a copayment or coinsurance when these services are delivered by a network provider.   According to guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services, alcohol misuse includes any alcohol consumption by women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

And starting in October of 2014, the new edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management, and clinical purposes, will go into effect.  For the first time, there will be specific codes for FASD prevention and intervention.  These welcome and long sought additions to the ICD are expected to yield greater interest in prenatal alcohol exposure by medical professionals and encourage clinical interventions by creating billing codes for such services.

The project will be 100% funded by this cooperative agreement, funded by HRSA, grant # U1HMC26371.

The Arc Responds to New Report on Alcohol Intake During Pregnancy

Washington, DC – The Arc is concerned about new research released earlier this week from Denmark stating that drinking low to moderate levels of alcohol during early pregnancy will cause no ill effects to children. The Arc’s over 700 chapters have a long history of raising awareness, educating and providing training to their communities about the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Unfortunately, studies like this serve to minimize alcohol’s severe effects on an unborn baby, placing doubt in the minds of mothers about the actual risk of drinking while pregnant. When studies are released that suggest alcohol intake can be safe during pregnancy, The Arc takes the opportunity to speak up and educate the public about the very real dangers of drinking while pregnant.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical, behavioral, mental and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. FASD affects an estimated 40,000 infants each year – more than Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome and Muscular Dystrophy combined.

“Why put your baby at risk? Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are 100% preventable if mothers abstain from drinking during pregnancy. The Arc advocates not drinking during pregnancy, and will continue to push this message because studies like this ignore the fact that completely abstaining takes the risk of having a baby with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder off the table,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

As other opponents of the study highlighted, there are a number of factors that weren’t taken into consideration that warrant the public’s attention. These include the fact that some developmental delays are not detected as young as 5 years old, the differences in metabolism amongst women, and variances in genetic susceptibility.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc, together with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Center for Excellence, recruits and supports the Self-Advocates with FASD in Action (or SAFA) Network. SAFA was established a little over a year ago to build and support a network of people with FASDs and give them the platform to be self-advocates.

Victims with FASD Highlighted in Academic Journal

Journal of Psychiatry & Law

Many people don’t know about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) or how common it is in the U.S. because it often goes undetected or is misdiagnosed. Similarly, most don’t realize that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime compared to those without disabilities. A new, groundbreaking double issue of the Journal of Psychiatry and Law regarding people with FASD in the criminal justice system is bringing these two “underground” worlds of FASD and victimization together to be dissected and studied under one theoretical roof.

As The Arc’s Project and Information Specialist and an expert on these issues, I had the exciting opportunity to contribute to this issue! Speaking to experts in a wide array of victimization, disability and legal fields served to broaden my own perspective of how to best serve this population, and the co-authors I worked with had a similar experience. I am equally thrilled to be attending a press conference in Washington, D.C. on November 17 hosted by the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) to announce the release of this unique special issue. After the press conference NOFAS is coordinating an “FASD & The Law” policy luncheon to prioritize policy recommendation in the justice arena and develop an action plan after which they will videotape interviews with professionals and experts on the topic. Those video interviews will be available soon on the NOFAS website and possibly distributed via The Arc.

Even though a high percentage of incarcerated juveniles and adults have symptoms of FASD, many lawyers, judges and mental health professionals don’t know much about it so it continues to go unrecognized. This special issue of Journal of Psychiatry and Law helps raise awareness of the serious needs of people with FASD, and gives advocates concrete information that helps them serve victims with an FASD more confidently and compassionately.

Training is a critical tool used to educate parents, self-advocates, victim assistance agencies, court personnel and others about serving crime victims with an FASD. As a follow up to the press conference, experts will offer a free training in the Washington, D.C. area to help practitioners know how to look for red flags that identify individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) who are involved in the court system.  It will address why they may have IQ’s above 70 but have low adaptive behavior skills and describe how courts should treat people who have cognitive and neuro-developmental needs, including the importance of knowing how to provide accommodations. If you are interested in learning more about the journal article, press conference or training, please contact me at ldavis@thearc.org.