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How to help kids with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder

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Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

QUESTION: I’m a fourth-grade schoolteacher (in my second year), and I think there’s a child in my class who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.

I’m not sure what to do, or how I can help the young guy. Should I contact his parents? — Sandra M., Macon, Ga.

ANSWER: Unfortunately, a recent study estimated around 630,000 babies around the world are born every year with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. That comes to 1,700 cases a day.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that between 2 and 5 percent of children in the U.S. show signs of prenatal alcohol exposure. Fetal alcohol syndrome disorder now appears to be more prevalent than autism spectrum disorder.

Most cases aren’t correctly diagnosed, so you need to be careful with how you proceed.

First, check with your principal. There’s probably a protocol for you to follow for special-needs kids.

If you’re right about the disorder, the child’s needs will be multidimensional. At some point you’ll probably need to be in touch with the parents, but in the meantime documentation and following your school’s protocols are your best friends, and are most likely to help the child.

The disorder can manifest itself with congenital malformations (smaller-than-average body) and growth impairments, but cognitive impairment is probably what, as a teacher, you’re seeing. Is he argumentative with classmates, falling behind in spelling and/or math?

The sooner you can get this child the help he needs, the sooner he’ll avoid developing bigger emotional and intellectual problems down the road.

And remember, even if you are just thinking about getting pregnant and are not practicing birth control, stop drinking. Half of all pregnancies are not planned, and no amount of alcohol is safe to drink if you are pregnant.

That said, there are specialists out there who can help. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has a website where you can find professionals in your area. You can also call 800-66-NOFAS.

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