Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

What is it?

 Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is used as a diagnostic term to describe the significant impacts that can occur to individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD’s effects may include physical, mental, behavioural, and/or learning disabilities with lifelong implications. 

Learn about FASD in this video:

What are the symptoms of FASD?

FASD is a lifelong condition but the symptoms may change as the child gets older.

Newborns with FASD may:

  • have low birth weights and small heads. They may not grow or gain weight as well as other children
  • have slight differences in their faces, such as small eyes, and a thin or flat upper lip
  •  be fussy and find it difficult to settle
  • have problems sleeping

Babies exposed to large amounts of alcohol before birth may go through withdrawal. Withdrawal often starts before babies leave the hospital.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • extreme fussiness,
  •  tremors or shaking,
  • feeding problems, and diarrhea
  • problems with their heart rate, breathing or digestion

Toddlers with FASD may be: 

  •  hyperactive,
  • unable to follow simple instructions,
  • too cheerful and friendly, even to strangers, and
  • delayed in their development

What can be done? 

Children with FASD can benefit from:

  • early intervention services
  • mental health support
  • educational supports
  • speech and language therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy 
  • parent/caregiver training


There is no medication for the treatment of FASD itself. However, some medications can help with the related challenges that accompany FASD, such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

What makes some children more vulnerable to FASD? 

FASD is not inherited. To prevent FASD, a woman should avoid drinking alcohol if she is pregnant or might be pregnant. This is because a woman could get pregnant and not know for up to 4 to 6 weeks. There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.

Where can I access support?

Talk to the child’s doctor about getting an assessment. If FASD is suspected, they may refer the child to the Complex Developmental Behavioural Conditions (CDBC) network in your Health Region. They may also refer you to a pediatrician or psychiatrist to rule out other possible medical causes for the difficulties and behaviours that concern you.

Talk to the child’s guardianship worker and share your behavioural observations. Explore what options are available for assessment so their diagnosis and treatment plan can be included in their Care Plan. The guardianship worker will help make appropriate referrals for specialized supports and services.

Get support from an FASD key worker. In BC, there is a free Key Worker and Parent Support Program that provides emotional and practical support for families of children with FASD, even before an assessment. They also refer families to resources like training and support groups. There are FASD key workers located in each Health Region across BC. You can find an FASD key worker or support in your community here.



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