Public Definition of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

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mother-1171569_1280.jpgIn July 2019, CanFASD released a standard definition of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

A lot of research and development went into creating this definition. Its goals are to:

  • Reduce the stigma surrounding FASD;
  • Improve society’s understanding of this disorder;
  • Generate consistency in how we talk about FASD; and
  • Shift how we think about FASD to a strengths-based whole-body approach.

CanFASD strongly recommends that policy makers and service providers use this definition in their practices. An evidence-based consistent definition is a huge step forward in the FASD field. However, this definition is too long and too technical for everyday use.

For everyday use, or when a plain language version is needed, we’ve created a public definition of FASD:

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong disability that affects the brain and body of people who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. Each person with FASD has both strengths and challenges and will need special supports to help them succeed with many different parts of their daily lives.

We encourage everyone to incorporate this definition into their daily lives in order to improve the public’s understanding of FASD and create consistency in how we talk about this disorder.

If you have any comments or feedback regarding this new definition, please email

2 Comments on “Public Definition of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)”

  1. Can you please make your diagnostic criteria more reflective of the spectrum part of the name. The current criteria are too restrictive and dependent on maternal confirmation of consumption. I believe the current criteria are discriminatory to children in foster care, who have been adopted, or who otherwise cannot get an accurate, or any, maternal confirmation. Facial features are only seen in a small percentage of children diagnosed with FASD, yet the Canadian standards rely heavily on their presence in the diagnostic criteria.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, we will share them with the authors of the Canadian FASD diagnostic guidelines.

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