What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term that describes a specific level of disability a person may experience due to prenatal alcohol exposure.  When a woman is pregnant, anything that she eats or drinks passes into her bloodstream and influences the way the baby is developing.  Fruits and vegetables, for example, provide critical nutrition for the fetus.  Alcohol and other drugs, however, are teratogenic (i.e. toxic) to fetal development.
Prenatal alcohol exposure effects every person differently.  The timing and amount of alcohol use makes a difference, as does the baby's genetics, the parents' genetics, and factors such as prenatal stress, nutrition, exercise, medications, and more.  Everyone with FASD has been prenatally exposed to alcohol, but not every person who is prenatally exposed to alcohol has a diagnosable disability.
While there are some common patterns of abilities and needs for people with FASD, each person is highly unique.  It is critical to get to know each individual, and how prenatal alcohol exposure and other developmental influences have become part of his or her story.
Some important reminders around FASD include:
  • A person with FASD is a person, first.  Each individual has strengths and abilities, and will benefit from expectations and learning approaches that match his or her unique style.
  • The brain is the most complex and rapidly developing part of our body, and the only organ to develop through the entire pregnancy.  No matter at what point there is alcohol exposure, the brain will be impacted.
  • FASD crosses all cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, and educational boundaries.  Any community where there is pregnancy and alcohol consumption, there is a risk of FASD.
  • There are many reasons why a woman may drink alcohol in pregnancy, including unplanned pregnancy, coping with trauma, pressure from her partner, friends or family, lack of awareness, or misinformation from healthcare professionals.  It is never intentional to harm her child; we all do the best we can with the internal and external resources available to use.
FASD is far more common than many people in the community believe.  The rates of unplanned pregnancy and the high social acceptance of alcohol use in itself put many families at risk.  The Asante Centre and many other allies are passionate about raising awareness around prenatal alcohol exposure, and how to compassionately support people who are impacted.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or support someone who is, please make sure you have up-to-date information on the risks of alcohol use in pregnancy.  A healthcare professional or pregnancy support program can help you abstain from or reduce your alcohol use.
If you are someone who suspects they have FASD, or support someone who does, please browse the resource section or contact the Asante Centre for more information.