Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

Learn the signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

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What are the signs and symptoms of FASD?

Each unborn baby will be affected by alcohol differently. This means that each person affected by FASD will have their own unique set of challenges and strengths.

FASD is often called an invisible 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.

People with FASD may have an IQ ranging from low to high, so IQ isn’t an indicator of FASD.

Some babies are born with facial features that are characteristic of FASD. These features only occur when a fetus is affected by alcohol at a particular stage in pregnancy. Only a small number of people with FASD will have these features. The features include:

  • thin upper lip
  • little or no groove or ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • small eyes or shorter distance between one corner of the eye to the other

For all individuals with FASD, there will be different degrees of brain damage. Signs of this may include problems with:

  • learning
  • memory
  • attention
  • language
  • social skills
  • motor skills
  • controlling behaviour
  • reasoning and judgement
  • academics like math and reading

Someone with FASD may also experience physical impairments, such as problems with their:

  • vision
  • kidney
  • hearing
  • heart and bones

In everyday life, problems with behaviours may look like:

  • being impulsive
  • acting out from frustration
  • not understanding consequences
  • being unfocused and easily distracted
  • difficulties with keeping up with classroom learning
  • forgetting how to do something they’ve done before
  • a hard time with handling money or learning how to tell time

Should you get diagnosed for FASD?

You may be concerned about FASD possibly affecting:

  • yourself
  • your child
  • someone you care for

If you are, you should speak to your health care provider about getting a referral to a specialized expert in FASD.

How is FASD diagnosed?

Diagnosing FASD can be difficult. This is because there’s no single or simple test that can cover the wide range of signs and symptoms.

FASD is usually diagnosed by a team of health professionals, which may include:

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

They will gather a lot of information and do tests. This will determine if a person has FASD and what their functional weaknesses and strengths are.

A diagnosis is helpful so that people can get relevant and targeted services and supports, including financial support where available.

It can also be comforting for individuals and their families to know:

  • what’s behind the behaviour and feelings
  • that the parents or caregivers haven’t done anything wrong

An early diagnosis followed by appropriate interventions and support help to minimize the disabilities associated with FASD.

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