What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the term used to describe the lifelong physical and/or neurodevelopmental impairments that can result from fetal alcohol exposure. FASD is a condition that is an outcome of parents either not being aware of the dangers of alcohol use when pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or not being supported to stay healthy and strong during pregnancy.

Alcohol can cause damage to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy, even before a pregnancy has been confirmed. The level of harm is dependent on the amount and frequency of alcohol use which may be impacted by factors such as intergenerational alcohol use by either parent, parent age and health of the mother (nutrition, tobacco use, mental health) and environmental factors such as stress (exposure to violence, poverty).

The effects of FASD vary considerably and it is sometimes referred to as the ‘invisible disability’ as it often goes undetected, whether it be overlooked, ignored, attributed to another known non-genetic condition or even simply blamed on ‘poor’ parenting or post birth environments. Characteristic features (physical, developmental and/or neurobehavioural) within the FASD spectrum are seldom apparent at birth unless accompanied by specific facial and growth factors that occur less frequently. FASD is often not noticed until the child reaches school age when behavioural and learning difficulties become more evident.

The majority of children and adults who have FASD live with significant cognitive, behavioural, health and learning difficulties, including problems with memory, attention, cause and effect reasoning, impulsivity, receptive language and adaptive functioning difficulties.  These difficulties are lifelong and have a significant impact on behaviour.  Positive outcomes can be achieved when parents are appropriately supported to understand their child’s behaviour as a symptom of brain damage.

It is therefore vital that Service Providers are FASD informed.  Knowing about FASD is not the same as understanding FASD.  The use of an “FASD lens” to develop strategies and supports on an individual basis according to each client’s presenting behaviours and strengths, is necessary to avoid making mistakes in case planning and case management that could lead to failure for children or adults living with FASD and their caregivers.

Online Media & Videos

Professor Elizabeth Elliott – University of Sydney

James Fitzpatrick – Paediatrician, Patches Paediatrics

Dr. Doug Shelton – Paediatrician, Gold Coast Hospital & Health Service

A range of videos about FASD can also be viewed on the FASD Hub Australia website

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