What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who is prenatally exposed to alcohol.

These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. FASDs can impact individuals differently. Most individuals don’t show any physical signs of the disorder, but have brain damage which is the most challenging aspect of this disability.

The term FASDs is not intended for use as a clinical diagnosis.

Diagnostic terms under the FASDs umbrella may include:


Fetal Alcohol

Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder

Alcohol Related

Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are


Frequently Asked Questions

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a medical diagnosis resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). FAS was defined and named in 1973 and is characterized by abnormalities in three domains: 1) growth deficiency, 2) central nervous system dysfunction resulting in neurobehavioral disorders, and 3) a specific pattern of facial abnormalities. Confirmed maternal use of alcohol may or may not be documented.

Individuals who do not meet diagnostic criteria in all three domains might be diagnosed with one of the other conditions under the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders continuum, such as Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder or Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE).

Source: FASD Competency-Based Curriculum Development Guide (2008)

The Impact of Alcohol
on the Developing Brain

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Interventions for Addressing Behaviors

Just as people with disabilities may need external support to accomplish daily living tasks, so do people with FASDs. But instead of needing ramps and wheelchairs to maneuver through their daily life, they may require an “external brain”. Essentially, that means that the people who are important in the life of a person with FASDs (parents, family members, teachers, counselors) need to make adjustments to the environment so it is structured, predictable and consistent. This will help the person with FASDs be successful.

Every child or adult with FASDs is unique, so interventions and accommodations should be individualized to meet their special needs. Remember that FASDs is brain damage and how an individual may function will vary depending on where they are on the spectrum.

General Guidelines for Parents and Professionals to Consider

Be Consistent.

It is really important for the caregivers to be in agreement about how they are going to address challenging behaviors and to select interventions that address the child’s specific needs. Constant reinforcement of these positive strategies in both the home and learning environment are critical.

Keep it Simple.

People with FASDs often learn the best in a simple environment with few distractions. They also often learn best with simple, concise instructions. It may be helpful to address the child at their developmental age, instead of their chronological age. Caregivers may find it helpful to take the child’s age and cut it in half. That is the age you can expect them to act, and how you interact with them.

Structure, Structure, Structure!

Structure helps people with FASDs make sense out of the world. So, it is important for the caregivers to provide as much structure in their daily schedule as possible. Using a picture schedule to help children with an FASD understand the daily schedule is also very helpful.

Be Specific.

Often people with FASDs are literal thinkers. It is important for the caregivers to be very specific about what is expected in concrete terms. Say exactly what you mean and avoid abstract language. Give directions step by step. Break larger tasks into smaller tasks.

Provide Supervision.

People with an FASD can sometimes accidentally get into trouble because they do not always anticipate the consequences of their actions. It is important to provide adequate supervision to assure that they stay safe.