What Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal Alcohol Disorder involves multiple symptoms and lasts a lifetime.

Midsection Of Pregnant Woman Standing At Forest
Sven Meier / EyeEm/Getty Images

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) refers to the range of neurological impairments that can affect a child who has been exposed to alcohol in the womb. FASD cannot be caused by a father who drinks alcohol, nor can it be caused by alcohol in breast milk (though this can cause different but related problems).

A number of factors, including how much the mother drank and at what point during the pregnancy, can influence the severity of the impairments and what functions they most affect.

In short, the more a pregnant mother drinks, the more likely it is that her child will have significant problems after birth. That said, no amount of maternal alcohol consumption is considered safe for a developing fetus.

Children with FASD can display symptoms of ADHD, autism, Asperger syndrome, Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, and various psychiatric disorders, but will often not respond to traditional treatments for those disabilities. FASD was formerly referred to as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects, but the new designation better indicates the range of abilities and disabilities experienced by individuals exposed to alcohol in utero.

What Are the Symptoms of FASD?

There are multiple types of FASDs, and each has its own range of symptoms. The three most common types are:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): The symptoms of FAS can be physical, psychological, emotional, developmental, or a combination of all of these. Problems can include abnormal facial features, slow growth, nervous system problems, and difficulties with vision or hearing. They can also include challenges that look very much like learning disabilities or ADHD (but with a different cause); for example, children with FAS may have difficulties with learning, remembering, focusing, or communicating with others. As a result of all these challenges, children with FAS typically have a very difficult time in school.
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): People with ARND are less likely than those with FAS to have physical challenges. They are most likely to exhibit intellectual disabilities and problems with behavior and learning. Like children with FAS, their symptoms may look very much like ADHD and/or learning disabilities, as they include difficulties with math, memory, focus, executive functioning, and impulse control. 
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD): In addition to the physical birth defects described above, children with ARBD are unusually prone to problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones or with hearing. 

There is no cure for FASD, though early intervention and a stable, loving home can go a long way toward alleviating symptoms. Parents of children with FASD should understand that their child's disability will last a lifetime.

Get more information.

Also Known As: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Effects, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, prenatal alcohol exposure

Alternate Spellings: Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Foetal Alcohol Effects, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Continue Reading