Australian Governement - Department of Health

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) – Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to questions we frequently get asked about FAS & FASD via our NOFASD Australia support service. If you have further questions or concerns relating to your specific situation please do not hesitate to contact us.

We would like to thank the parents that provided feedback on these FAQs.

If you have a question that is not on this page, please contact us. NOFASD’s qualified and experienced staff will be happy to answer your questions and provide confidential, accurate advice.

Alcohol and Pregnancy - Frequently Asked Questions

Can I safely drink alcohol when I'm pregnant?

The short answer is no. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that “to prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.” Research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm your baby, so the safest option is not to consume any alcohol during pregnancy. Read more on our page What is a safe amount to drink.

People also ask:

  • Can I have a glass of wine while pregnant?
  • Can I drink beer while pregnant?

The answer to all these questions is still no – because there is no identified safe level of alcohol, the only safe option is to drink nothing at all. Consuming an alcoholic beverage while you are pregnant is not safe for your unborn baby. Even small amounts of alcohol can harm our developing baby. For more information watch this video by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

What happens if I drink during pregnancy?

Because there is no proven safe amount of alcohol which you can drink during pregnancy, ANY alcohol consumption may result in harm to the developing fetus.  As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout the pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant.

People also ask:

  • Will one drink harm my baby?
  • Is it better to drink wine instead of spirits when you are pregnant?

No amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy is guaranteed to be completely ‘safe’ or ‘risk-free’ for a developing baby. We know that any alcohol consumption changes some biological processes in the cells of the mother and baby; therefore, it is safer to not drink at all during pregnancy. All forms of alcohol are equally harmful.  Read more about alcohol and pregnancy on the CDC website.

How does alcohol affect an unborn baby?

Alcohol is a neurotoxin (poison) and a teratogen (an agent that is known to cause birth defects and permanent brain injury in the fetus). Alcohol crosses the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream and the baby does not have the ability to metabolise alcohol safely. Even small amounts of alcohol can have a big impact on health, the most severe outcome being Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

People also ask:

  • Can my baby die if I drink alcohol during my pregnancy?

Yes, as stated on the Australian Government Department of Health website there is a chance you can have a miscarriage if you consume alcohol while pregnant

How early in pregnancy does alcohol affect the baby?

From as early as week 3 in a pregnancy, the fetus is developing major organs and is highly sensitive to harm caused by alcohol.  Much of the baby’s physical development occurs prior to week 12, however, the brain continues to develop throughout the whole pregnancy and is susceptible to harm at any time. For more information, read NOFASD’s blog about drinking when pregnant

People also ask:

  • Can alcohol hurt a baby in the first month?
  • Can drinking in the first week of pregnancy cause miscarriage?
  • Isn’t it only during the first trimester that damage can occur?

 

The effects of alcohol as a teratogen (causing birth defects) are greatest in the first trimester. Parts of the body highly susceptible to harm in the first 4-8 weeks include the heart, CNS (central nervous system), eyes or arms and legs. Research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby.

In the first two weeks after conception, the embryo has not yet developed to the stage where abnormalities can occur – instead, the effect of alcohol is more likely to result in miscarriage. Many women are unaware they are pregnant at this stage. You can find out more about the risk of miscarriage from this article.

The fetus is developing most of its major organs and external body parts during the first 12 weeks (1st trimester) of pregnancy so that is the time of the highest risk of harm to your baby. However, the brain continues to develop and grow rapidly throughout pregnancy so alcohol can still cause significant damage after the first trimester.

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

The NHMRC guidelines advise that “women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not drink alcohol.” This is because if a mother drinks when she is breastfeeding, the alcohol crosses into the breastmilk and the concentration of alcohol in her breastmilk is the same as that in her bloodstream. Alcohol stays in breastmilk for as long as it remains in the bloodstream, so not drinking alcohol is the safest option. You may wish to download the Feedsafe app so you have accurate information to make the best choice for your family.

Why do I have to worry about drinking in my pregnancy? My mother drank when she was pregnant with me and I’m OK.

It is estimated that 1 in 13 pregnancies which are exposed to alcohol will result in a child born with FASD. There are a lot of factors which contribute to how much harm alcohol causes, including a primary factor being genetics. As we cannot predict the effect of the mother or the child’s genetics, the only way to guarantee that a baby is healthy is to consume no alcohol during pregnancy. Twin studies have found that about half of fraternal twins have different outcomes even though they are exposed to exactly the same amount of alcohol. Although an estimated 12 out of 13 alcohol exposed pregnancies do not result in FASD, research has found that even small amounts of alcohol can harm a baby. Outcomes from prenatal alcohol exposure can include impacted academic performance, social skills, attention, behaviour, cognition, language skills, memory, and visual and motor development.

What is a standard drink/unit of alcohol?

An Australian standard drink contains 10g of alcohol (12.5ml of pure alcohol). For a full list of standard drinks please visit the ADF website

chart outlining the standard drink measurement in australia

I have been told stress is bad for my baby. Is it better to carry on drinking as this helps me?

No, it is not better to use alcohol to help with stress.  Alcohol is a drug that can cause serious harm to an unborn child, more so than stress. Try other strategies to reduce your stress, such as exercise, talking to someone you trust, relaxing outdoors, or speaking to a counsellor. Check out these strategies to reduce stress from Health Direct and Healthline. Mind the Bump is a free mindfulness app for individuals and couples, which helps support emotional wellbeing in preparation for having a baby. Where alcohol exposure has occurred, lowering stress levels reduces the likelihood of negative outcomes for the baby.

Australia has a strong drinking culture, with alcohol commonly used for socialising, relaxation, and to cope with stress and sadness. It can be very challenging to navigate this culture when pregnant. Read these tips for saying no to alcohol. Alcohol can also have long term negative health impacts for you. If you’re struggling to stop drinking, please contact a support service.

Will my child be born with FASD if I don’t drink, but my husband/partner is a drinker (alcohol in sperm)?

No, there is no evidence that a father’s drinking can cause FASD. A paper written in 2019 summarised evidence that fathers’ alcohol consumption prior to conception may affect an unborn child on the genetic level and make them more vulnerable to developing FASD. See here to read more on the Genetic and Epigenetic Perspectives on the Role of Fathers in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

How do I speak to my friend about the risk of FASD as she is drinking alcohol and not using contraception?

The best approach is to be honest and upfront in explaining FASD, but not forceful. Explain what FASD is and the risks of drinking alcohol and not using contraception. Make it clear you are not criticizing her or her lifestyle but are just worried about what could happen – tell your friend you want her to be armed with all the facts.

A great way to support her is to not drink when you are socializing with her. Australian culture can make it difficult to abstain from alcohol, and we know it’s much easier to say no to alcohol with a support person. Your friend may be interested in reading this birth mother’s story or this mother’s description of raising a child with FASD

Will FASD be worse if I use other drugs (cannabis, speed) during the pregnancy?

Yes, combining alcohol with other drugs use can be worse for the developing baby. This was confirmed by a recent study published in a book called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment. Combining alcohol and cigarettes is also harmful.

People also ask:

  • Wouldn’t it be worse if I used drugs like cocaine or heroin during the pregnancy rather than alcohol?

No, alcohol is also a teratogen so it’s effects on a developing fetus can be as harmful, or sometimes more harmful, than other drugs. Alcohol can cause a permanent, lifelong brain injury to a baby that cannot be repaired. Follow this link for more information on pregnancy, drugs and alcohol.

What do I do if I have been drinking and I’m pregnant?

It’s best to stop drinking from now on. Every day that you don’t drink alcohol increases the chance that your baby will be born healthy. Researchers estimate that about 1 in 13 pregnancies exposed to alcohol will result in a baby born with FASD. Other factors, including stress levels and nutrition, also impact the baby’s development. This means that the best thing you can do for your baby is to keep yourself healthy and avoid situations which are stressful. NOFASD’s Helpline is available on 1800 860 613 if you want more information. 

If you want support to stop or reduce your alcohol consumption, click here to view FASD support services,  visit your GP, speak to a counsellor or contact NOFASD.

Mind the Bump is a free Mindfulness Meditation App to help individuals and couples support their mental and emotional wellbeing in preparation for having a baby. Where alcohol exposure has occurred, lowering stress levels reduces the likelihood of negative outcomes for the baby.

People also ask:

  • I just found out I am pregnant (or my girlfriend is) and have been drinking alcohol in this period – could it harm my child?
  • What can I do if I have consumed alcohol during my pregnancy?

The best course of action is to not consume any more alcohol and look after yourself and your unborn child. The sooner you stop drinking the better it is for the development of your baby. The CDC suggests that you talk with your health care provider and ensure regular prenatal check-ups.

I want to try to get pregnant. When should I stop drinking?

The best course of action is to stop consuming alcohol now. It is strongly recommended that women and men stop drinking alcohol before they start trying to become pregnant. This is because alcohol can harm a fetus from the moment of conception, and can also impact a baby’s health even before conception. You may wish to read the CDC’s tips for women and for men who are planning a pregnancy. Read these tips for saying no to alcohol and this information about how a father’s drinking can harm his baby.

I don’t have a partner and I don’t plan on getting pregnant anytime soon. Should I be worried about FASD?

Yes, you should be worried about FASD. As stated in a recent article by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, research indicates that up to 50% of Australian pregnancies are unplanned. Accidental prenatal alcohol exposure often occurs before a woman is aware that she is pregnant. Serious harm can occur during these early weeks.

If women are sexually active and not using contraception, there is a risk of FASD if they are also drinking alcohol regularly. If you are drinking alcohol and engaging in sexual activity the best solution is to use contraception to prevent pregnancy.

I don’t want to stop drinking alcohol. Are there other ways to protect against FASD while still drinking?

If you are not already pregnant the best way to minimise the risk is to use contraception to prevent pregnancy. If you are already pregnant the best way to protect your baby is to not drink any alcohol at all.  

If you’re struggling to stop drinking, please contact these ‘drug and alcohol in pregnancy’ services at major women’s and children’s hospitals

My midwife/doctor/allied health worker said it is ok to have a few glasses of wine each week, is this true?

No. According to the most recent research, there is NO safe level of alcohol and NO safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that:

  1. To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.
  2. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and research is being done on improving the quality and consistency of information provided to pregnant women about alcohol consumption. NOFASD’s survey on alcohol and pregnancy in Australia found that inaccurate health information and mixed messages are often received, and not enough women received information about alcohol and pregnancy.  

How could a woman risk harming her child?

No woman ever intends to cause harm to their baby by drinking alcohol. No woman chooses FASD. There is no blame. 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. 

People also ask:

  • FASD only happens because of bad parenting, doesn’t it?

No. Alcohol can harm a developing fetus at any point during a pregnancy, even before the pregnancy is confirmed. As 50% of Australian women experience an unplanned pregnancy at some time, prenatal alcohol exposure may occur before the family becomes aware of the pregnancy. An Australian study found that 59% of babies are prenatally exposed to alcohol. We know there are lots of factors which contribute to whether or not a baby is born with FASD. No-one intentionally harms their developing child.

How much alcohol will cause FASD in an unborn child?

No one knows the minimum amount of alcohol which can cause FASD in an unborn child, but studies have found that even low-level drinking can harm the developing fetus. The safest option for your unborn child is not to consume any alcohol while you are pregnant. This includes not drinking if you are not using contraception, as alcohol consumption even in the early weeks of pregnancy can cause FASD. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy – it’s not worth the risk.

Can FASD be caused by a father?

No, there is no evidence that a father’s sperm can cause FASD, but research shows that men’s drinking affects their sperm, which may cause their child to be more genetically susceptible to developing FASD.

It is important to note that partners play a significant role in a woman’s alcohol use during pregnancy. Read Queensland father Tony’s experience of supporting alcohol-free pregnancies.

How can I support my partner/wife to abstain from drinking alcohol while pregnant?

The best way to support your partner/wife is to abstain from drinking alcohol yourself during the pregnancy. Watch this YouTube video by NSW Health for a great reminder that partners are an essential source of support and knowledge. Men can read how you can be a great dad even before your baby is born and how to plan an alcohol-free pregnancy. You and your partner might also like to read these tips on saying no to alcohol.

We found out that we are pregnant, but my wife/partner is continuing to drink alcohol. What should I do?

The best course of action is to read up on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, get all the facts and then discuss this with your partner. Let her know you are not criticizing her, but you need to discuss the health of your baby. A great way to support her is to stop drinking yourself, for the duration of the pregnancy. Australian culture can make it difficult to abstain from alcohol, and we know it’s much easier to say no to alcohol with a support person than alone. Your partner may be interested in reading this birth mother’s story or this mother’s description of raising a child with FASD.

I would like to reduce my alcohol consumption or stop drinking altogether. How do I do this without it affecting my life negatively?

There are a number of support services who can help you to reduce or cease drinking. The Australian Government Department of Health also lists services for those wishing to change their alcohol use. You could check out Hello Sunday Morning or download their Daybreak app, join up for some fun activities with Untoxicated, or visit SMART recovery for support with addiction.

I have been pregnant for some time and my partner or husband keeps drinking alcohol around me. It is making my urge to drink worse. What should I do?

Have a talk with your partner/husband about their drinking. Tell them you are not judging or criticizing, you just struggle with the urge to drink. Explain the negative consequences of drinking and ask for their support in looking after your baby’s health. Men might find it helpful to read about how they can be a great dad before their baby is born or to watch this video by NSW Health on being a great dad and partner

How do I say no to alcohol without people asking me why or pressuring me to drink?

There are many reasons you can give for choosing not to drink, and you don’t have to tell people you’re pregnant until you’re ready. This blog has many great ideas for saying no to alcohol, including:

  • I’m driving, no thanks!
  • No thanks, I just finished one.
  • I’ve had my limit for tonight.
  • No thanks, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.

It can be difficult to deal with the questions, disappointment and peer pressure that come with saying no to alcohol, and we know that many women are pressured to drink alcohol, even when they’re pregnant! Having a friend or partner to support you is a big help, and many people say that bringing their own zero-alcohol beer, wine or spirits to parties stops the questions and allows them to blend in. You can also find some great mocktail recipes on the NOFASD website.

Remember that it is your body and therefore your choice. Standing by your choices is empowering and is beneficial for your health as well as for healthy conception and pregnancy.

How many women drink while pregnant?

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 found that 35% of women drank alcohol while pregnant, a figure which has been reducing over the last two decades. However, research which dug deeper found that a much higher 59% of Australian women drank at some point during their pregnancy, with most of these women stopping as soon as they found out they were pregnant. These early weeks before a pregnancy is recognised pose a big risk for negative birth outcomes including FASD. This study found that 18.5% of Australian women binge drank before realizing that they were pregnant. No woman intentionally harms her child, and no woman is to blame for the birth of a child with FASD. More information is needed to ensure that everyone understands the risks of alcohol use and unplanned pregnancy.

FASD Diagnosis & Assessment - Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if my child is wrongly diagnosed with ADHD or Autism when they have FASD – is this bad?

It is much better if your child has the right diagnosis, as this means they will receive appropriate services and supports. Research has found that misdiagnosis can have a negative impact on your child’s development and mental health.

FASD is currently under-recognised and under-diagnosed. Many health professionals are not trained and lack confidence in assessing and diagnosing FASD. See NOFASD’s information about diagnosis and the FASD Hub Australia’s guide to diagnosis.

People also ask:

  • What is needed to make a FASD diagnosis, and where can I go?
  • I think my child might have FASD, how can I find out?

A diagnostic assessment for FASD is conducted by a multidisciplinary team, to enable accurate assessment of the range of outcomes that may be associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. You will need a referral from a General Practitioner (GP) or another medical professional before you can get an appointment with a FASD clinic or FASD-informed service. There are a number of specialist FASD clinics that are currently operating in Australia. See the FASD Hub’s service directory of professionals with FASD experience and expertise. You can also call NOFASD on 1800 860 613 (free call) or contact us for information on referral options. The NOFASD website has links to a range of support services that may be helpful.

Who can diagnose FASD?

A multidisciplinary team at a Specialist FASD Clinic is the best option for diagnosis, however, if you are not able to get to a clinic there are lots of other options available. Read our information on FASD diagnosis, check the FASD Hub’s service directory of professionals with FASD expertise, and contact NOFASD if you have more questions or need support with the diagnostic process.

Is it necessary to get a diagnosis? I have been told not to label my child.

Assessment and diagnosis of FASD is important. Receiving an accurate diagnosis provides understanding for families, improved access to services, and better life outcomes for the individual. Research has found that early diagnosis of FASD is a protective factor, reducing the likelihood that your child will develop secondary conditions in addition to their FASD symptoms. Secondary conditions include difficulties such as poor mental health, trouble at school, trouble with the law and challenges living independently. A medical diagnosis of FASD will help anyone who is working with your child to better understand that their learning and behavioural issues are a symptom of FASD, and this helps when making plans to support your child with the challenges they face.

 Your unique child will always be more than their diagnosis. Watch adult with FASD Myles Himmelreich talk about being more than a label

 When children or adults have no visible signs of prenatal alcohol exposure, their problems may be wrongly blamed on poor parenting or on other disorders (for example Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder). FASD is a unique and complex disability, meaning the interventions that work best are often specific to FASD. See the FASD Hub’s information on why diagnosis is important.

How do I know if a doctor/paediatrician/clinician is trained to recognise FASD?

The FASD Hub maintains a service directory of professionals with FASD experience and expertise. If you cannot see your specialist listed in the directory, you are within your rights to ask them or their reception staff how much training they have had in FASD. NOFASD Australia offers a free Foundations in FASD Course which comes with a certificate – you may choose to ask your service provider for a copy of their certificate before you make an appointment.

If you are having trouble finding a doctor, paediatrician, or other clinician who is FASD-informed contact NOFASD for advice.

In Australia, the options are currently limited. At this time there are few diagnosticians and access might depend where you live in Australia, waiting lists, the age of your child, what school communities might offer, how well we can jointly advocate. Even so, we can try to connect you with professionals in your community.

How do I know if my baby/toddler/child has FASD? What are the signs?

As outlined in this brochure – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) the preventable disability:

  • Infants may have a low birth weight but not be premature; they might experience irritability, sensitivity to light, noises and/or touch, feeding problems and a failure to thrive.
  • Toddlers may exhibit memory problems, hyperactivity, a lack of fear, a poor sense of boundaries and impairment in gross or fine motor skills, which may result in poor balance or clumsiness.
  • Children may develop more slowly and have a difficult time learning and controlling their behaviours. Most children with FASD have developmental delays and they may also have intellectual impairment, although their IQ may be in the normal range (70 – 130). They may master a new task one day, and not remember the next day. They may also have problems with attention span and/or hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), have limited and/ or appropriate communication skills and experience difficulties with learning such as the concepts required to do maths. A minority of children with FASD may also be small in stature, their faces may look different, and they may have vision and/or hearing problems.
  • Older children may have low self-esteem because of an awareness of “difference”, or because they have trouble keeping up or fitting in at school. Teenagers may exhibit the social skills of a 6–8-year-old; show poor impulse control; may not distinguish between appropriate public and private behaviours; may not follow rules. Concepts must be re-taught daily. Most become isolated because they find it difficult to sustain friendships with their peers and truanting from school, mixing with ‘unsafe’ individuals and groups, criminal behaviours, higher risk of alcohol and other substance use, and separation from family support can result.

Please remember that these are indicators only – it takes a multidisciplinary team to diagnose FASD. If you have concerns, speak to your GP or paediatrician or contact NOFASD. You may choose to complete the FASD checklist or check out NOFASD’s common behaviours and features and characteristics across the lifespan.

What if my child seems to display some of the symptoms above and I am worried they might have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Speak to your Family Doctor, request referral to a FASD specialist from the FASD Hub’s service directory or call the NOFASD Helpline on 1800 860 613.

People also ask:

  • What do I do if I am worried my child might have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Someone told me my child might have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Is this the same as FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum was a diagnosis used from 1973 until the Australian guidelines came into effect in 2016. The correct terminology is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD:

Fetal (the accepted spelling in the medical community. The word Foetal is not used. Some people think ‘fetal’ is an Americanisation of ‘foetal’, but this is not the case).

Alcohol

Spectrum (not syndrome)

Disorder.

What do I do if my child has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

The practitioner who made the FASD diagnosis will be able to provide you with information and support on the next steps to take. You may find valuable guidance in NOFASD’s parent/carer toolkit and other resources. You may have feelings of shock, grief, anger and a range of other emotions – these are all normal and it’s important that you take care of yourself. You may find these webinars on carer resilience or online support groups valuable.

When you are ready, you and your family will benefit from learning more about FASD. You may like to contact NOFASD to request a support pack, download the FASD-informed book Strategies not Solutions, or order the highly acclaimed book Trying Differently rather than Harder, which many parents describe as life changing.

People also ask:

  • What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?

How do I know if my child has FASD?

You could print and complete this FASD checklist and take the results to your GP or paediatrician to discuss. This is just a simple tool to start the conversation, it cannot provide a diagnosis. Using this information, your GP can refer you to a FASD Clinic who can conduct an assessment with your child. You may also like to discuss your concerns with the FASD Helpline staff on 1800 860 613.

Frequently Asked Questions about FASD

Isn't FASD only an Indigenous problem?

No! FASD impacts every community where alcohol is consumed. A recent study by Muggli, et al., (2016) found that educated Caucasian Australian women are more likely to drink alcohol when pregnant than other women in the community.

How come some people drink and their kids are OK?

There are a lot of factors which influence how much impact prenatal alcohol exposure has on each individual child. Genetic factors play a big part in susceptibility to FASD, which is why some children who are exposed to alcohol appear unaffected while others can experience severe symptoms including FASD. As we can never predict the genetic predisposition which an unborn child has, specialists advise that the only safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy is none at all.

While we know that the risk is highest when large quantities of alcohol are consumed throughout pregnancy, research has found that even low levels of alcohol, or a single binge drinking episode, can result in severe harm to the unborn child. Binge drinking is classified as more than 4 standard drinks at one time, which is not much more than two pints of beer, two large glasses of wine, or one or two cocktails. Read the NHMRC Australian Guidelines for more information.  

My GP doesn’t believe my child could have FASD, who can I speak to?

You may wish to seek a second opinion from one of the FASD-informed specialists on the FASD Hub’s service directory, or you could share a brochure or online information for health professionals with your GP and ask them to learn more about FASD. NOFASD’s 30 evidence based FASD facts for health professionals may be useful.

NOFASD Australia also maintains an up-to-date directory of FASD-informed specialists and diagnostic clinics. Please call our National Helpline on 1800 860 613 (free call) or contact us for information on referral options.

Doesn’t FASD only affect babies? My child will grow out of it, won’t they?

No, unfortunately, FASD affects an individual throughout their life and they will need ongoing support. Alcohol is a teratogen (toxin) which interrupts or changes the normal development of a fetus, including the brain and other organs. This means that FASD is a permanent and lifelong disability.

People also ask:

  • What impact can FASD have on my child long-term?
  • Can FASD be cured or reversed?

FASD is a permanent condition which includes long-term impacts on the brain. There is no cure for FASD, but FASD-informed support can create huge improvements in quality of life for the individual and their family. You may wish to learn more about FASD by completing the free online Foundations in FASD course, and you can ask the professionals who work with your child to complete this course too.

What can I do when school teachers don’t understand FASD?

Unfortunately, many school teachers don’t understand FASD well. Talk to your child’s teacher and other support people (such as school counsellors, teacher’s aides and the principal) about your child’s diagnosis. The Introduction to Teachers is a helpful document which provides a short overview of FASD and has sections in which you can fill in personalised information about your child’s strengths and needs.

If your child’s teacher is willing to learn more about FASD they can watch a webinar, view some short videos, access a range of resources for educators, complete an online course or request some face to face training from NOFASD.    

How can FASD be prevented?

The only way to prevent FASD is to ensure there is no prenatal exposure to alcohol. If you could be pregnant or are planning a pregnancy, health professionals advise that no alcohol is safe. As approximately 50% of Australian women experience an unplanned pregnancy, if you choose to drink alcohol then using effective contraception is essential to prevent unintentional prenatal alcohol exposure.

Preventing FASD is not solely a woman’s responsibility – it’s up to all of us to raise awareness of the risks of prenatal alcohol exposure and to support our friends, family, and community members to stay alcohol free if they are, or could be, pregnant.

How does FASD affect the brain?

FASD affects the ability to think, learn, focus attention and control behaviour and emotions. Those affected may also be impulsive and often have low self-esteem and mental health problems. These impairments may also lead to problems at school, socially unacceptable behaviour, alcohol and other drug use, and early interactions with the justice system. See here for how FASD can impact people.

 You can also check out the Oregon Behaviour Consultation podcasts: “It’s a Brain Thing!”, to understand more about how FASD affects the brain.

How do you deal with FASD?

Immediate information and supports are available by contacting the NOFASD helpline or email. The NOFASD website also contains a range of resources and further information to help individuals with FASD or their parents/carers in Australia.

 You can also learn more about FASD with NOFASD’s Australian Foundations in FASD online course.

 These websites also have helpful information and resources on FASD:

Why is FASD considered an invisible disability?

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. Sometimes FASD has been excluded by doctors due to lack of physical indicators. It Is important to note that 80% to 90% of people with FASD do not have the characteristic facial features.

Who discovered FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) was a diagnosis proposed by physicians in the US in 1973 to define neurological impairment associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. FASD is the diagnostic term that has replaced FAS and is used in Australia, Canada & New Zealand since 2016.

Living with FASD - Frequently Asked Questions

What will happen when my child grows up - will they go to university? have a job? end up in jail?

Evidence shows that individuals who go through life WITHOUT a FASD diagnosis who does not get the supports they need often develop secondary conditions which severely impact their life expectancy.  However, WITH a diagnosis and the right supports, individuals can be supported to achieve their potential in life, including maintaining a job, going to school and having relationships, like other adults living with disabilities.

 See here for FASD Hub Australia’s page on living with FASD and the CDC’S real stories from people living with FASD.

My child mentally, emotionally and physically abuses me. I feel so embarrassed or frightened (if the child is in foster care) that the child will be taken off of them, and I don’t want to say anything. What should I do?

The NOFASD website has some recorded webinars on this topic, which may offer you some helpful advice.  They are presented by Anita Gibbs, a social worker and associate professor with extensive experience & knowledge in this area. 

You may also need to contact an OT or psychologist for assistance in providing the right kind of treatment for your child. It is important that the health professionals involved, are FASD-informed, as this will influence how effective and appropriate the treatment is.  The FASD Hub website contains a services directory of informed providers around Australia

Why does my child lie all the time?

FASD is a brain injury which means that sometimes an individual with FASD will make up stories will lie because they are confused/do not know the answer, otherwise known as confabulation. Confabulation occurs when people unintentionally fill a gap in their memory with information that is inaccurate. This could be something that occurred at a different time or could be entirely imagined/false. It is important to remember that confabulation is done with no intent to deceive or mislead

You can watch this video by Nate Sheets from Oregon Behaviour Consultation on confabulation: when lying isn’t lying.

 A helpful tip is to reframe the situation. For example:

Think of the behaviours you may see from your child on the surface:

  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Impulsivity
  • Risk-taking.

Now think of what is happening that we cannot see:

  • Slow processing time.
  • Not understanding what is being said.
  • The brain does not think about consequences.
  • The body moves before the brain can think.
  • Often desperate to seem “normal”.

 You can read more information here on parenting through the reframing lens.

If you think your child is confabulating, it’s important not to pressure them to tell the truth – this can lead to escalation. Accept that the story is filling a memory gap, and try to move on.

Can FASD be passed on?

No. Currently, there is no evidence that proves FASD can be passed on.  A fetus MUST be exposed to prenatal alcohol exposure during pregnancy for a diagnosis of FASD.

FASD Prevalence - Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell the difference between ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and FASD?

There are some areas of overlap between these three disorders as they are all neurodevelopmental conditions. However, in order for a diagnosis of FASD to be made, there must be confirmed evidence of prenatal alcohol exposure, and the sentinel facial features may be present.

There is some overlap in the brain functions affected in these conditions. Children with ADHD have difficulties in attention, impulsivity or both, and those with ASD may have impairments in cognition, social communication and language. A child with FASD may also be affected in some or all these areas but would need assessment of their motor skills, and memory and other domains. Sensory difficulties may also be present in FASD and ASD. Clinicians conducting assessments of children use standardised tools to help them make an accurate diagnosis. However, it is not unusual for a child with FASD to be first assessed for an autism spectrum disorder, particularly if a child has language or communication delays.

See the Australian guide to the diagnosis of FASD for more.

Is it true that people with FASD are often diagnosed with other disabilities instead of FASD?

Yes. The misdiagnoses of FASD with other conditions does happen. This may be due to a lack of knowledge about FASD by health professionals, or reluctance to ask questions about prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) due to stigma surrounding alcohol use. Research by Chasnoff et al., (2015) found that within their clinical sample, 86.5% of youth with FASD had never been previously diagnosed or had been misdiagnosed.

My child has a diagnosis for ADHD, is it possible they could have FASD too?

Yes, research by Burd (2016), indicated that an ADHD diagnosis indicated an increased risk of FASD and that FASD was a leading cause of ADHD. In fact, a diagnosis of ADHD will meet one of the 3 domains of impairment required for a FASD diagnosis.

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