Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning. Often, people with FASD have a mix of these problems.
What is FASD?
FASD refers to a range of effects that can happen to a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These conditions can affect each person in different ways and can range from mild to severe.
They can affect the mind or the body, or both. Because FASD makes up a group of disorders, people with FASD can exhibit a wide range and mix of symptoms. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one condition among the full range of FASD. A baby born with FAS has a small head, weighs less than other babies, and has distinctive facial features.
Some of the behavioral and intellectual disabilities of people with FASD include:
Difficulty with learning or memory
Higher than normal level of activity (hyperactivity)
Difficulty with attention
Speech and language delays
Poor reasoning and judgment skills
People born with FASD can also have problems with their organs, including the heart and kidneys.
What causes FASD?
FASD is caused by a woman’s drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. When a woman drinks alcohol so does her baby. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. All drinks that contain alcohol, including wine and beer, can harm an unborn baby. There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol can harm a baby at any time during pregnancy. So, to prevent FASD, a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, or even when she might get pregnant. This is because a woman could get pregnant and not know it for up to 4 to 6 weeks. In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
How many people have FASD?
We do not know exactly how many people have FASD. Few estimates are available. Based on community studies using physical examinations, experts estimate that the full range of FASD among 6-7-year-old children in the United States and some Western European countries might be as high as 2 to 5 out of 100 school children (or 2% to 5% of the population).
Are there treatments for FASD?
FASD lasts a lifetime. There is no cure for FASD, but research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.
There are many types of treatment options, including medication to help with some symptoms, behavior and education therapy, parent training, and other approaches. No one treatment is right for every child.
Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes as needed along the way. There are a number of factors that can help reduce the effects of FASD and help people with these conditions reach their full potential.
These factors include:
Diagnosis before 6 years of age
A loving, nurturing, and stable home environment during the school years
Absence of violence
Involvement in special education and social services
What can I do if I think my child has FASD?
~Ask for a Referral.
If you or your health care provider thinks your child could have FASD, ask your provider for a referral to a specialist (someone who knows about FASD), such as a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, or clinical geneticist. In some cities, there are clinics whose staff have special training in diagnosing and treating children with FASD.
For providers and clinics in your area, visit the National and State Resource Directory from the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 800–66–NOFAS (66327).
~Get an Evaluation
Call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention services. You do not need to wait for a health care provider’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.
Steps for a free evaluation from the state depend on your child’s age:
For children younger than 3 years old, contact your local early intervention system. To learn more, call (973) 642-8100.
For children 3 years old or older, contact your local public school system. Even if your child is not old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated.
To help your child reach his or her full potential, it is very important to get help for FASD as early as possible!
For More Information
To learn more about FASD, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or call 800–CDC–INFO
American Academy of Pediatrics FASD Toolkit
Center for Parent Information and Resources call (973) 642-8100
National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) or call 800–66–NOFAS (66327)