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National Organisation for FASD Australia

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FASD Diagnosis

FASD is often referred to as the ‘invisible disability’ as it often goes undetected, whether it be overlooked, ignored, attributed to another cause or even simply blamed on ‘poor’ parenting or the environment the child is living in. Assessment and diagnosis of FASD is important as it may provide answers for families and improve access to services that can improve life outcomes.

Research has found that early diagnosis of FASD is a “protective factor.” A protective factor is anything that stops one problem from causing another to develop. A written 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 help your child with the challenges they face.

When children or adults have no visible signs of 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 complex disability that is quite unlike all others and interventions that work are often specific to the disability. The quality and type of interventions truly matters. International studies tell us that early diagnosis and interventions for FASD are linked with better long-term outcomes for the child and the family who support them.

If FASD is suspected, an accurate diagnosis can:

  • Help parents/carers better understand their child and their behaviour
  • Help the older child/adolescent or adult better understand themselves
  • Be a guide to the most appropriate and best support and services
  • Aid communication among clinicians, caregivers, educators, and families.

If you have more questions about FAS and FASD diagnosis, we have an extensive list of Frequently Asked Questions collated from parents and carers just like you.  The FAQ’s are split into the following sections:

FASD Checklist Tool

Signs that your child may need to be evaluated for FASD

Children with FASD are very different from each other. One child might have only a few characteristics and another might have many. In very young children, it can be hard to detect the early signs unless the child has very obvious facial features and developmental delay. FASD is often not evident until they start pre-school or school. It’s best to get advice and support early if you’re worried that your child may have FASD. It is important to consider having your child evaluated for FASD if:

  • There is a maternal history of regularly drinking prior to pregnancy being confirmed.
  • There is maternal history of regular drinking during pregnancy or drinking heavily on an occasion during pregnancy.
  • The child is not growing and developing as expected. For example, they may have developmental delays, such as using fewer than expected words for his or her age, not learning from their mistakes or they may be smaller than other children of the same age.
  • They are having problems learning, behavioural problems and problems getting along with others.
  • The child has distinctive facial features of FASD. Some of the features include a small face, narrow eye openings, a short, upturned nose, and a flattened groove between the nose and the upper lip. These features are often not noticed.

The observations you make can be useful to the assessment, diagnosis and planning process. This simple tool – FASD – A Checklist,  will help get you started and you may also like to complete this Lifetime Story Sheet. We suggest you complete both of these forms and take to the assessment with you.

The FASD Diagnostic Assessment

Diagnostic assessment for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can be conducted with people of all ages. However diagnostic assessment is most commonly conducted with children under the age of 18 years. Ideally a child should have a diagnostic assessment as early as possible.

Information on FASD diagnostic assessment for individuals and caregivers is included in the Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD which can be downloaded from the FASD Hub Australia website.

Where to Go for Assessment and Diagnosis of FASD

NOFASD Australia 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.

FASD Hub Australia also maintains a directory of Paediatricians and Clinics for FASD diagnosis.

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