The Mons adopted Oleg when he was almost three years. After 15 days, the family realized that with the child something not so. “He was constantly crying, and him [the father] claimed that the boy’s small head,” says Mons. The pediatrician sent them to a neurologist who concluded that the child’s “fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)” caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Oleg traumatic brain injury, decreased skull size, little eyes, his actions are impulsive… And it’s not the only case. At the hospital Vall d’hebron treats more than a hundred people, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe. Due to such a large number of patients Autonomous government of Catalonia indicates that the disease is primarily seen in children adopted from Russia and Ukraine.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes neurological and physical disorders in the foetus. This is a set of diseases known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (SPAN). Fetal alcohol syndrome is more severe and is characterized by pronounced physical and neurological manifestations, but there are other related offences, at first glance inconspicuous.
Children may be born with visible physical defects or without reduction of skull size, small weight and stature, flattened philtrum, etc. But the very shortcomings will be felt always. In children with signs of FAS observed cognitive and behavioral disorders of varying degrees, the deterioration of memory and mental properties, impulsivity, difficulties in the musculoskeletal system and social communication…
In their cognitive capabilities they are naive, do not possess abstract thinking, do not understand jokes and double meaning, experience difficulties in communicating with other people,” explains Dr. Nuria gómez Barros (Barros Núria Gómez), an employee of the Department of psychiatry at hospital Vall d’hebron.
The number of children with similar symptoms had caused concern in Catalonia and led to the emergence of a category of poorly diagnosed patients. “These kids go unnoticed because they are considered mentally retarded, suffering from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism,” says Gomez Barros.
The Deputy chief of Department of drug abuse in the Department of health Joan Colom (Joan Colom) considers that the FAS is quite a reasonable concern, but there are problems with the diagnosis. In 2011 health facilities reported only two cases, although it is suspected that in reality there are many more. “About 60% of pregnant women at some point drink alcohol,” — said Colom.
According to different analyses, on average, in Europe drink alcohol 25.2% of pregnant women; in Spain the figure is 15%. “Alcohol harms the neural connections. It is known that it is contraindicated in all situations, especially in the first three months. If in doubt, it is better not to drink, because we don’t know how it will affect the fruit”, sums up Teresa Vendrell (Vendrell Teresa), Deputy head of the Department of clinical genetics.
High rates of FAS in children from Eastern Europe are not accidental. “We drew attention to these countries, because the level of alcohol consumption there is much higher than in other countries”, — said Agnes Rusiñol (Agnès Rusiñol), Director of the Catalan Institute of admission and adoption (ICAA). Starting in 1998, were adopted more than five thousand children from European countries, mostly from Russia and Ukraine.
The Association of families affected by FAS (AFASAF), is already more than a hundred members, the majority of these foster parents of children from Eastern Europe. “With young children and no special problems, but when it comes to adolescence, the case becomes more complicated because teenagers can’t appreciate the consequences of their actions and easily amenable to outside influence: can go on the offense or of falling into any addiction,” says the Chairman AFASAF Teresa núñez (Teresa Núñez).
Experts argue about the disposition of these teenagers to different dependencies. “The risk in this case increases five times,” — said Gomez Barros. Vendrell adds that “some studies deny a genetic basis and correlate the risk with the environment in which adolescents live, as well as their character, emphasizing that they are vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of influences.”
The Autonomous government of Catalonia is currently developing ways of approaching this phenomenon. Catalan Institute of admission and adoption (ICAA) has already rejected the proposal of a preventive termination of adoptions from these countries, but at the same time began to study to establish the prevalence of SPAN children from Russia and Ukraine and to take appropriate action. “We want to deeply study this issue. To stop adopting children from these countries — it is the last resort. We have to see what prevails, and only then decide what action to take,” says Rusiñol. The Director of the ICAA does not preclude separation of adoptions in normal (healthy children) and those that involve special requirements in view of the state of health of adopted children.” Stake, for its part, insists on preventive measures and talks about the development of “diagnostic instruction and observation Protocol”. “Early diagnosis, an integrated approach and comprehensive treatment.”
The Ministry of health consider creating a special Department that will deal with the most complex cases.