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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

13 May 2022

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a range of birth defects and health and development problems that can be caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. FASD can cause a variety of physical, mental, and behavioral problems in children. If you are pregnant, it is important to avoid drinking alcohol to help prevent FASD.

The main cause of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is drinking alcohol while pregnant. This can affect brain development in unborn babies, as well as having other serious lifelong consequences. There is no safe level of drinking while pregnant - it's best not to drink at all. Heavy binge-drinking is the most risky for unborn babies. It's important to remember that not every pregnancy is planned, so many women drink alcohol before realising they're pregnant. If you find out you're pregnant and know you've drunk alcohol, it's a good idea to talk with your GP.

Signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) can vary, but many children with FASD have:

-Small eyes

-Thin upper lip

-Smooth philtrum

-Small head

-Poor coordination and fine motor skills

-Slow growth and development.

Children with FASD might also have:

-Learning difficulties

-Intellectual disability

-Poor memory

-Difficulty communicating.

Children with FASD may also exhibit impulsive behavior, anxiety and depression, and difficulty organizing themselves. They may also seem to have the behaviors and emotions of younger children.

A paediatrician can diagnose fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) by looking for the signs and using a special set of criteria. FASD is a spectrum disorder, so it can be difficult to make a diagnosis. The earlier a child gets a diagnosis of FASD, the earlier the child can get intervention to help him reach his potential. If you have any concerns about your child and FASD, it’s a good idea to speak with your GP.

Being told that your baby or child has FASD can be a big shock for you and your family. If you need information and support, a good place to start is NOFASD Australia.

There is no cure for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), but children with FASD can get treatment to learn and develop skills and improve their quality of life. Treatment depends on the difficulties a child with FASD has. For example, if a child has difficulties with speech and communication, speech therapy might help. If a child has learning and behaviour difficulties at school, there might be options for school disability support. Occupational therapy can help children with movement and daily care difficulties.

When children have FASD, a team of health professionals usually helps to support the whole family. In addition to your GP and paediatrician, this team might include the following:

child and family health nurse

case manager

occupational therapist


social worker

speech pathologist.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) might support your child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), as well as you and your family. Our articles have answers to your questions about the NDIS.