Gold Coast now an Australian leader in diagnosing and treating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Drinking alcohol is seen as a normal Aussie past-time, but when pregnant women drink it can cause serious damage to their unborn child in the form of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

The Disorder is referred to by some as the ‘invisible disability’, because it’s hard to detect before or after birth. In some cases it’s not until the child begins school that problems – with their behaviour and learning – really become noticeable.

But the Gold Coast has become Australia’s leading centre for diagnosing the disorder – and the hub of a new, statewide ‘Neurodevelopment Exposure Disorder’ (NED) Service – thanks to $1 million in funding from Queensland Health and Gold Coast Health.


Dr Doug Shelton is leading the new service. He says the benefits to the Gold Coast community from having this service are huge.

“Statistics tell us that two in three pregnancies in Australia are unplanned, [and] 61 per cent of women consume some alcohol during pregnancy,” said Dr Shelton.

He adds that nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) of kids who are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome end up in trouble with the law.

“There is a huge cost to the community as a result,” he said. Which is why the primary goal of this new NED service will be to identify at-risk infants and young kids across the Gold Coast – and the state as a whole – and start helping them early.

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can range from mental issues such as difficulties with learning and social relationships to physical issues such as developmental delays and major organ damage.

Dr Shelton has been running his own clinic at Southport Health Precinct since 2014 to diagnose children with the disorder, and has helped up to 22 children and their families each year.

But now, thanks to the funding, this new service is expected to be able to provide more than 200 assessments of pregnant women on the Gold Coast every year, and more than 1000 assessments of women all across Queensland once other health services across the state have been trained up.