8 facts about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

couple pregnant
couple pregnant 

How much do you know about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders? Test your knowledge with these facts.

1. The best advice is no alcohol during pregnancy
There is currently no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This is why the National Health and Medical Research Council recommended that ‘not drinking during pregnancy is the safest option’.

2.  Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause FASD
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause irreversible damage to the fetus, resulting in conditions referred to as FASD. FASD is a non-diagnostic umbrella term for the range of disabilities that result from prenatal alcohol exposure. The conditions that fall within FASD include:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): Individuals have facial anomalies, growth deficits and neuro-behavioural problems; 
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS): Individuals have most but not all the features of FAS;
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND): Individuals may present with many alcohol-related brain and behavioural abnormalities; but may not display facial anomalies; and
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD): Individuals may exhibit congenital birth defects related to confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure, although there may not be any neurological abnormalities. 

3.  FASD is preventable but there is no cure
FASD are the leading preventable cause of non-genetic, intellectual disability in Australia. While there is no cure for FASD, early detection and intervention can assist individuals, their families and carers to develop coping strategies and mechanisms for everyday life.

4. We don’t know how many people have FASD
Prevalence of FASD in Australia are largely unknown due in-part to a lack of agreed diagnostic criteria and clinical guidelines, a lack of understanding about FASD among the medical profession and lack of routine screening of women about their alcohol use during pregnancy. Additionally women may not seek assistance and/or fully disclose levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy due to stigma associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy, fear of children being removed from their care and feelings of shame and guilt.

5. FASD is an invisible disability
FASD is often described as an ‘invisible’ disability, as individuals may not exhibit any of the facial or physical characteristics associated with the condition. However prenatal alcohol exposure can result in problems with behaviour, impulse control, memory, speech and language development, impairment of vision and hearing and difficulty with judgment and reasoning. These behaviours only become recognisable as a child grows and FASD can be often misdiagnosed as ADHD or autism.

6.  People with FASD are also likely to experience other conditions
People with FASD are more likely to experience mental health issues, alcohol and drug problems, trouble with the law, disrupted school experience and exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviours. Due to underlying brain damage, people with FASD can often struggle with day-to-day living, managing money and sustaining regular employment. People FASD are also believed to be over-represented in the criminal justice system.

7. People with FASD don’t receive disability support
In Australia, FASD is not recognised as a disability, and this precludes those with impaired mental functioning from receiving the help and support they require to manage their condition.

8. The impacts of FASD are far reaching and lifelong
People with FASD are impacted throughout their lives. People with FASD, their families and their carers need help and support to navigate the differing parts of government systems including child welfare, education, mental health and the criminal justice sector.

Learn more about FASD and the Pregnant Pause campaign