A first of its kind clinic in Central Florida is helping diagnose what doctors consider an ‘invisible disability’ at birth, impacting as many as one in 20 children. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome occurs when a woman drinks too much during pregnancy, and it can lead to lifelong cognitive and behavioral issues.
Only 9 Investigates went inside the new clinic and learned, oftentimes, those issues don’t become obvious until years after a child is born.
In an office off Gore Street near downtown Orlando, a simple conversation about stars is helping 5-year-old Dayton Dodson’s family identify strengths and weaknesses in his speech.
“We were able to notice that there were developmental delays immediately,” mom Kara Dodson said. She and her husband started fostering Dayton at 5 months old, and adopted him at age two.
In addition to him being diagnosed with autism, they suspected something more was causing Dayton issues at a young age.
“We knew there was still something going on. So we explored the family history a little bit further, and found out that there was fetal alcohol exposure,” Dodson said. “And that is where we found this clinic and it has been a blessing.”
Orlando Health’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children launched a partnership this year with the Florida Center in Sarasota, to identify children with FASD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as much as 5% of the population could fall into that category, and many families have no idea.
“It can range from problems with attention to problems with language, self care, daily abilities,” pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Lindsay Shaw Cadmus said.
The clinic uses a team of a pediatric neuropsychologist, a speech language pathologist, and an occupational therapist to help families like the Dodsons create a care plan for the lifelong impacts of FASD.
“When we come together as a group, we can look at different aspects of a child’s functioning, we can help the family to understand what those challenges really are, and how best to support them,” Dr. Shaw Cadmus said.
Research shows early intervention treatment can improve a child’s quality of life, but the CDC says diagnosis before age 6 is key.
“This is a topic that had there’s a lot of taboo about you know, a lot of people don’t want to talk about it,” Dodson said. “Just reach out and get the help. Nobody’s here to judge. You know, we were just here to reach the kids and get them the help they need.”
The clinic in Orlando can help four families per month, and there is a waitlist. If you think your child needs to be evaluated and treated, visit thefloridacenter.org or email the Florida Center’s FASD Diagnostic Clinic at email@example.com or call 941-371-8820 x1161.