What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical, learning, behavioral and adaptive problems across the lifespan. These conditions can affect each person in different ways and can range from mild to severe. Some of the diagnoses under this descriptive FASD “umbrella” are: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS); Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND); and Alcohol-related Birth Defects (ARBD).

A person with FASD might have:

  • Distinct facial features, including a smooth philtrum or small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height or low body weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty with attention and hyperactive behavior
  • Difficulty in school (especially with math) and poor memory
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep and sucking problems as a baby
  • Problems with vision, hearing, the heart, kidneys, or bones

Another diagnostic option is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM 5, 2013) as   Neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure or ND-PAE (315.8/ F88). This applies to “neurodevelopmental disorders that cause impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of function”.  Neurobehavioral disorder associated with Prenatal Alcohol Disorder is included as a condition for further study in the DSM5. A child or youth with this condition will have problems in three areas: (1) Impaired neurocognitive function: thinking and memory, where the child may have trouble planning or may forget material he or she has already learned, (2) Impaired self-regulation: behavior problems, such as severe tantrums, mood issues (for example, irritability), and difficulty shifting attention from one task to another, and (3) Impaired adaptive functioning: trouble with day-to-day living, which can include problems with bathing, dressing for the weather, and playing with other children. In addition, to be diagnosed with ND-PAE, the mother of the child must have consumed more than minimal levels of alcohol before the child’s birth.

FASD affects people in different ways. Individuals with FASD each have their own interests, abilities, strengths, and challenges. There is a wide variety in levels of intelligence, ways of communicating, social skills, creativity and challenging behaviors associated with these diagnostic categories. This is why FASDis called a “spectrum” disorder.