Help for alcohol birth defects
Illustration: Toby Wilkinson/The West Australian

The Federal Government plans to make foetal alcohol spectrum disorder a registered disability, which will enable potentially thousands of WA children to get support and treatment they cannot get.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he wanted his alcohol inquiry announced this year to focus on FASD being recognised as a disability.

Leading child health researcher Fiona Stanley applauded the plan but said funding for strategies to prevent FASD and support in a sufferer's early years were crucial.

Senator Scullion said he asked inquiry chairwoman and Liberal backbencher Sharman Stone to look at successful responses to FASD overseas and alcohol management across Australia. He said a lot of work was needed before FASD could be made a registered disability, which would open it up to many services.

FASD covers a range of developmental problems, the most severe being foetal alcohol syndrome.

Its lifelong effects include brain damage, birth defects, poor growth, low IQ or learning difficulties, delayed development, social and behavioural problems and problems with hearing, speech and vision.

Data shows almost one in 1000 WA children are born with an FASD but the true number is believed to be much higher because the condition is not routinely diagnosed.

Aboriginal children are 100 times more likely to have the condition.

Professor Stanley said registering FASD as a disability would be "hugely important" because it would enable children to get help at school and other health services.

She said there was evidence that supporting FASD children at school reduced crime and behavioural issues later.

But she urged governments to focus also on preventing FASD by finding out why young women drank alcohol when pregnant.

Because FASD is often not diagnosed and not thoroughly researched, Professor Stanley's Telethon Institute of Child Health Research team can only suspect an increasing number of victims.

Professor Carol Bower, from the institute, is developing an FASD diagnostic tool, which is being considered for use nationwide.

The West Australian

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