FASD: What Is It?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD, describes the range of effects that occur from  prenatal alcohol exposure which affects 1 in 100 infants every year. FASD is not a genetic condition and is 100% preventable; it develops in infants whose birth mothers drank alcohol during her pregnancy.


FASD causes mental, physical, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities. There are several conditions under the umbrella of FASD: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS).  A description of each condition can be viewed at http://www.nofas.org/faqs.aspx.

Foster and adopted children can be at risk for these conditions. Children from Eastern Europe and Russia, and children removed from substance abusing mothers are at a higher risk for prenatal alcohol exposure. The University of Minnesota’s International Adoption Clinic website explains that “Eastern Europeans and Russians in particular have the world’s highest per capita alcohol consumption and the risk to the fetus during pregnancy is not widely appreciated particularly among impoverished and/or chemically dependent women who are the most likely to voluntarily or involuntarily loose parental rights. Consequently, many if not most of orphans placed from these countries are at-risk of intrauterine alcohol exposure.”


It is interesting to note that not all infants who are exposed to alcohol in utero will have FASD. How can a parent determine if their child has FASD? A physician evaluates and diagnoses FAS and other spectrum disorders. The physician examines the child and uses four criteria to diagnose FAS; details about the criteria can be read at http://www.nofas.org/healthcare/indicators.aspx  The four criteria are:
1. Prenatal alcohol exposure (confirmed or unconfirmed)
2. Signs of growth delays in the child’s height or weight
3. Significant facial features (small palpebral fissures; thin upper lip; long, flat       philtrum/space between upper lip and nose)
4. Neurodevelopment problems (Brain dysfunction)

Diane Malbin, social worker and author explains the primary characteristics of FAS on her website (FACETS) as well as in her book, Trying Differently Rather Than Harder. The primary characteristics include:
Memory problems
Difficulty storing and retrieving information
Inconsistent performance (“on” and “off”) days
Impulsivity, distractibility, disorganization
Ability to repeat instructions, but inability to put them into action (“talk the talk but don’t walk the walk”)
Difficulty with abstractions, such as math, money management, time concepts
Cognitive processing deficits (may think more slowly)
Slow auditory pace (may only understand every third word of normally paced conversation)
Developmental lags (may act younger than chronological age)
Inability to predict outcomes or understand consequences

There are several resources for parents and caregivers. The NOFAS website offers helpful “Tools for Parents and Caregivers” (under the Resources tab) tips for parents raising kids and teens diagnosed with FASD. The site lists practical strategies from infancy through adulthood.

Lutherwood is a site to learn more about FASD; they have a long list of free strategies and tools. On the TOOLS page, there is a wonderful booklet for children who have been diagnosed with FASD. The booklet titled, All About Me…FASD is an interactive booklet for kids to complete and give to teachers, babysitters, family and other supportive adults. The booklet shares information about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and the ways prenatal alcohol exposure has affected the child’s learning and behavior.

Fetal alcohol syndrome research. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.peds.umn.edu/iac/research/fas/home.html
Lutherwood https://www.fasdwaterlooregion.ca/strategies-tools
Malbin, MSW, D. (2002). Trying Differently Rather Than Harder: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Portland, OR: FACETS.
Malbin, D. (2010). Understanding fasd (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders). Retrieved from http://www.fascets.org
The national organization on fetal alcohol syndrome (nofas). (2001). Retrieved from http://www.nofas.org


Carol Lozier is a therapist, author, and blogger specializing in trauma; and adoptive and foster kids, teens, and adults. Her newest book is coming out this month! DBT Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Working with Teens . . .. check it out on Amazon! Ms. Lozier is in private practice in Louisville, KY.

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