What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): Everything You Need to Know

Among the less talked about disabilities encountered in education, today is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. The fact that it is not a topic of conversation doesn’t mean that it is uncommon.

Outside a medical setting, the technical definitions often get blurred in conversation and literature, but it is important to make a few distinctions. FASD is a broad term that covers almost any physical, behavioral, or educational problem that is thought to be the result of exposure to alcohol in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, on the other hand, is a more specific and profound term. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) must include at least three facial abnormalities; growth deficits for both height and weight; and central nervous system abnormalities. Some other terms (and acronyms) get used occasionally, as well:

  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)

Since FASD is the broadest of the terms and covers basically anyone who suffers from a problem related to prenatal alcohol exposure, I’ll use that term. But readers should be aware that the term FAS and FASD are used almost interchangeably much of the time.

FAS is a tragic problem in light of its preventable nature. A group called Better Endings New Beginnings has some relatively up-to-date U.S. statistics on FASD available. About four million babies are born in the U.S. each year. About one out of a hundred (40,000) have FASD. Of these, about one in five could be medically diagnosed as having FAS. That’s 8,000 babies born each year with FAS. That means that about 100,000 children with FASD between the ages of five and 18 are in school today.

Learners with FASD tend to have one or more of the following obstacles to effective learning:

  • They are easily distracted
  • They are easily frustrated
  • The lack some motor skills
  • They have a poor attention span
  • They lack organizational skills
  • They have difficulty with concrete thinking skills
  • They do not relate well with their peers

The National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, NOFAS, has some excellent suggestions available online for instructional strategies to use when working with FASD students. They range from simple ideas like preferential seating to assisting with social behaviors and modifying the curriculum.

There is also an excellent listserv for FASD available at http://www.faslink.org/faslink.htm. I subscribe to the listserv. It is archived at the address above and there are instructions as to how to subscribe to it there. The archive is searchable – making it a valuable Internet resource on the subject since the listserv is now ten years old. And the listserv has the advantage of being active and somewhat international. And because of the long history of the listserv, it has a feel of the community. People share personal information and views that, while sometimes creating discussion threads that are off-topic (and heated), result in a very useful Internet experience for people who want to follow FASD issues and events.

What causes FASDs?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASDs, are caused by the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol can harm a developing fetus at any stage of pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant.

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta to the developing fetus. The fetus is not able to process alcohol in the same way that an adult can, which means that alcohol can cause damage to the developing brain and other organs.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. The risk of harm to the developing fetus increases with the amount of alcohol consumed, as well as the frequency and timing of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

How common are FASDs?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASDs, are more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 20 children in the United States has FASDs. This means that up to 5% of children in the US may be affected by FASDs.

However, the exact prevalence of FASDs is difficult to determine because many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Additionally, FASDs affect individuals differently, with some experiencing more severe symptoms than others.

It’s also worth noting that FASDs can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. However, certain factors may increase the risk of FASDs, such as having a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy, having a history of alcohol abuse in the family, or living in a community where alcohol use is common.

It’s important to remember that FASDs are preventable. By abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy, women can significantly reduce the risk of their children developing FASDs. If you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol use during pregnancy, seeking help and support can make a big difference in preventing FASDs and ensuring the health and well-being of both mother and child.

What are the signs and symptoms of FASDs?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) can cause a range of physical and mental disabilities in newborns. The symptoms of FASDs can vary significantly from child to child, as well as the severity of these symptoms. Some common physical symptoms of FASDs include a small head circumference, smaller than average height and weight, and distinctive facial features such as a thin upper lip and small eye openings.

In addition to physical symptoms, children with FASDs may also experience behavioral and cognitive symptoms such as difficulty with learning and memory, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, communication and social skills, and poor judgment.

How is FASD diagnosed?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) can be difficult to diagnose because there is no single test that can definitively diagnose FASDs. Instead, a physician or other healthcare provider will look for a combination of physical, behavioral, and cognitive signs and symptoms of FASDs.

Medical professionals will typically begin by conducting a thorough medical history and physical examination of the child. They will also ask the mother about her alcohol consumption during pregnancy and any other factors that may have contributed to the child’s symptoms.

In addition, a range of tests may be conducted, including blood tests, hearing and vision tests, and imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Behavioral and cognitive assessments may also be conducted to evaluate the child’s learning, memory, and other cognitive abilities. These assessments may include standardized tests and evaluations by psychologists or other mental health professionals.

What are the long-term effects of FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) can cause a range of long-term effects on the individual affected, including physical, mental, and behavioral issues that can last a lifetime. The severity and type of effect can vary depending on the individual and the amount and timing of alcohol exposure during pregnancy.

Some of the physical effects can include abnormal facial features, growth problems, and organ damage. The mental and behavioral effects can include developmental delays, learning disabilities, memory problems, impulsivity, and poor social skills. Individuals with FASDs may also have difficulty with attention, communication, and language development.

How can FASD be prevented?

It’s important to understand that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are entirely preventable. The most effective way to prevent FASDs is for women to abstain from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This includes not only the consumption of alcoholic beverages but also the use of any products that contain alcohol, such as mouthwash or cooking wine.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, it’s important to avoid alcohol completely. If you struggle with alcohol use disorder, it’s important to seek help to stop drinking while pregnant. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you need help quitting alcohol.
It’s also important for partners, family members, and friends to support pregnant women in abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy. They can help create an alcohol-free environment and offer support in times of stress or temptation.

Education and awareness campaigns can also help prevent FASDs. By raising awareness of the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, we can encourage more women to abstain from alcohol when pregnant.

Living with FASDs: Support and resources

Living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) can be challenging for individuals and families. However, it is important to know that support and resources are available to help manage the condition and improve the quality of life.

One of the first steps is to seek out a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable about FASDs. This can include a pediatrician, neurologist, or developmental-behavioral specialist. These professionals can provide guidance on managing symptoms and can help connect families to other resources in their community.

In addition, there are many advocacy organizations and support groups that provide resources and a community of individuals who understand what it is like to live with FASDs. These organizations can provide educational resources, connect families with other individuals living with FASDs, and offer support and guidance on navigating daily challenges.

Conclusion and final thoughts on FASD

In conclusion, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are entirely preventable, yet they remain a leading cause of developmental disabilities and birth defects in children.
It is crucial to understand that FASDs are not a matter of choice or a moral failing of the mother. Instead, it is a medical condition that results from prenatal alcohol exposure.

The best approach to prevent FASDs is for women to abstain from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It’s important to note that there is no safe amount or safe time for alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

It’s important for healthcare providers to educate their patients on the risks and consequences of FASDs. Early identification and intervention can make a significant difference in the life of a child with an FASD.

Finally, it’s essential to foster a supportive and non-judgmental environment for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Creating awareness and providing education about FASDs can encourage women to make healthy choices and ensure the best possible outcomes for their babies.