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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This is not a diagnostic term, but is an umbrella term that encompasses all disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. There are five diagnoses under the FASD umbrella:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) with confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) without confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

Babies diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) have the following physiological characteristics:

  • Small birth weight
  • Small head circumference
  • Small eye openings
  • Smooth, wide philtrum
  • Thin upper lip

If the facial characteristics are not visible, the child may not get a diagnosis of FAS, but may have the same neurological symptoms and behavior challenges as children with full FAS. Only about 20% of affected children receive a diagnosis of FAS. The other 80% have partial FAS or Alcohol Related Neurological Disorder (ARND). Together FAS and ARND make up the broad category called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

Most infants with FASD are irritable, have trouble eating and sleeping, are sensitive to sensory stimulation, and have a strong startle reflex. They may hyperextend their heads or limbs with hypertonia (too much muscle tone) or hypotonia (too little muscle tone) or both. Some infants may have heart defects or suffer anomalies of the ears, eyes, liver, or joints.

Most children with FASD have developmental delays and some have lower than normal intelligence. Only 15% of children with FASD have an IQ under 70. Most children with FASD have IQ in the normal or above normal range.

The most serious characteristics of FASD are the invisible symptoms of neurological damage from prenatal exposure to alcohol. These symptoms persist into adulthood and include the following:

  • Attention deficits
  • Memory deficits
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts
  • Inability to manage money
  • Poor problem solving skills
  • Difficulty learning from consequences
  • Immature social behavior
  • Inappropriately friendly to strangers
  • Lack of control over emotions
  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor judgment

These are symptoms of permanent, unchanging damage to the brain and are not within the child's control. Although psychological factors such as abuse and neglect can add to the intensity of the problems, the behaviors should be viewed first and foremost as a result of brain damage from alcohol.

Adults with FASD have difficulty maintaining successful independence. They have trouble staying in school, keeping jobs, or sustaining healthy relationships. They require long-term support and some degree of supervision in order to succeed.

Without appropriate support services, these individuals have a high risk of developing secondary disabilities such as mental health issues, getting into trouble with the law, abusing alcohol and other drugs, and unwanted pregnancies.

Children and adults with FASD are also quite vulnerable to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

For more information, visit www.fasstar.com.