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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in a child whose mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. FASD includes several diagnostic conditions:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome

  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)

  • Alcohol-related birth defect (ARBD)


How is FASD diagnosed?

A child is diagnosed with an FASD by looking carefully at certain physical characteristics, growth patterns, and learning strengths and weaknesses. Interviews or records are reviewed to determine whether the child may have been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.


How many people have FASD?

Between 2 and 5 of every 100 people have an FASD. Between 2 and 7 of every 1000 people have full FAS.


Associated Developmental and Learning Issues

Most children with FASD have some degree of developmental delay or difficulty learning. Common difficulties include:

  • Difficulty with social skills and building relationships

  • Difficulties with self-regulation

  • Delayed motor skills or poor motor coordination

  • Difficulty with daily living skills

  • Sensory processing difficulties

  • Learning problems: Children with FASD can have cognitive abilities ranging from severe intellectual disability to above average intellectual ability. Many children with FASD have normal intelligence. Common learning challenges include:

    • Difficulty shifting attention from one thing to another and solving problems flexibly

    • Difficulty remembering verbally learned information


Associated Medical Conditions

  • In infancy, low birth weight, feeding difficulties, and slow growth

  • Problems with sleep and sleep-wake cycle

  • Poor safety awareness


Associated Behavioral Conditions

  • ADHD

  • Depression

  • Mood disorders or bipolar disorder

  • Anxiety

  • Personality or conduct disorders

  • Reactive attachment disorder

Medical Reviewers:

  • Cole, Lynn, MS, RN, PNP