Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: Signs and symptoms

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Signs and symptoms

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is often called a hidden disorder because the majority of people with it have no outward signs of disability. Their learning and behavioural challenges are often mistaken for other disorders or problems.

A person with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder may:

  • act impulsively
  • have difficulties:
    • handling money
    • learning how to tell time
    • keeping up with classroom learning
  • not understand consequences
  • be unfocused and easily distracted
  • forget how to do something they've done before

IQ is not an indicator of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Someone with the disorder may also experience problems with their:

  • vision
  • kidneys
  • hearing
  • heart and bones

A small number of people are born with certain facial features because of the disorder. These features include:

  • a thin upper lip
  • small eyes or shorter distance between the eyes
  • little or no groove or ridge between the nose and upper lip

Talk to a health care provider if you think you or a loved one may have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Getting a diagnosis

Getting a diagnosis can be difficult. There is no single test that can cover the disorder's wide range of signs and symptoms.

A team of health professionals gathers information and carries out tests to diagnose someone. These professionals may include:

  • a physician
  • a psychologist
  • a social worker
  • an occupational therapist
  • a speech and language specialist

A diagnosis can help people get relevant and targeted services and supports, including financial support where available. It can also be comforting to know what's behind your or a loved one's behaviour and feelings.

An early diagnosis and appropriate interventions and support result in more positive outcomes for people with the disorder.

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