Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.
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 a wide range of factors, making it impossible to predict the outcome of alcohol exposure to any individual pregnancy. Factors include the amount and frequency of alcohol use, parent age and health of the mother (nutrition, tobacco use, mental health) and environmental factors such as stress.
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 infrequently. 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.
Read our comprehensive FASD FAQ for answers to the most commonly asked questions about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
It is therefore vital that Service Providers are FASD informed. Knowing about FASD is not the same as understanding FASD. The use of a “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.
The language we use when talking about FASD is important. The Australian FASD Language Guide suggests respectful language which can be used in conversations, presentations and reports about FASD in Australia.
The standardised definition of FASD, written in pink above, was developed by CanFASD in an international consultative process. Read the Policy Action Paper outlining the development process.
“Pregnancy and Alcohol: The Surprising Reality” is a podcast series developed and presented by Kurt Lewis. This podcast will take the listener behind the scenes to chat with the people who understand FASD the most and to find out more about this surprising reality.
FASD in Australia
Every person living with FASD is unique
Professor Elizabeth Elliott – Paediatrician, University of Sydney
James Fitzpatrick – Paediatrician, Patches Paediatrics
Dr. Doug Shelton – Paediatrician, Gold Coast Hospital & Health Service