Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It 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.
A standard definition of FASD in Canada was released in 2019. CanFASD recommends that researchers, policy makers, and service providers use this definition when talking about FASD.
FASD is a spectrum disorder, so it affects people in different ways. This means that each person with FASD will have their own unique strengths and challenges.
Individuals with FASD are known for having a number of different strengths, including being friendly, likeable, affectionate, determined, hard-working, forgiving, non-judgemental and caring. They also may experience challenges with learning, memory, attention, language, social skills, motor skills, reasoning and judgement, behaviour, and/or academic achievement and they will need specialized supports to help them succeed in these areas.
In everyday life, these challenges may look like:
- being impulsive
- not understanding consequences
- being unfocused and easily distracted
- difficulties keeping up with classroom learning
- challenges handling money
- challenges learning how to tell time
- forgetting how to do something they’ve done before
- having trouble staying organized and planning ahead
Each individual will experience different challenges, and their challenges may differ depending on where they are in their life. The signs and symptoms of FASD can overlap with a number of different developmental disorders, which can make diagnosing FASD very difficult.
Early recognition and diagnosis are key to getting effective supports to improve outcomes for individuals with FASD.
You cannot tell if someone has FASD from looking at them. There are also no specific medical tests, like a blood test, that can tell us. In order to determine if someone has FASD they must be diagnosed by a multidisciplinary team of experts.
In a very small percentage of cases (<10%), individuals with FASD will have visible facial differences. However, these facial differences are relatively rare and have little to no impact on day to day function. They are not an indication of the degree of challenges someone may face.
FASD is preventable if women do not consume alcohol during pregnancy. However, FASD prevention is very complicated . There are a number of reasons someone may drink alcohol during pregnancy, including being unaware they are pregnant, having substance use challenges, experiencing abuse or trauma, and not knowing the impact alcohol can have on pregnancy. In order to prevent FASD, we have to consider all of these factors that influence alcohol consumption and we have to provide support for women and girls to overcome these barriers to healthy pregnancies.
When we say “FASD is 100% preventable” we are oversimplifying an extremely complex issue. This statement has the potential to negatively impact prevention efforts by creating stigma that pregnant women who use substances have to overcome. When we talk about FASD prevention we have to be very cautious and use language that doesn’t promote stigma or harm.
If you are concerned that you or a member of your family has FASD, you should talk to your health care provider about getting a referral to a number of different diagnostic clinics across Canada. The assessment process involves meeting with a diagnostic team made up of several different professionals, including a paediatrician, psychologist, speech language pathologist, social worker, occupational therapist, and clinic coordinator.
Follow this link to learn more about the diagnostic process.
The drinking behaviours of male partners do not cause FASD, but they can have an important influence on mothers’ drinking habits and the healthy development of their babies. Alcohol consumption in fathers has been associated with:
- Higher levels of alcohol consumption in mothers during pregnancy
- Babies born earlier and weighing less
- Lower success rates in assisted reproductive treatments, like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT)
- Higher rates of malformations and abnormal brain development in infants
FASD is a diagnostic term that refers to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Children of women who use substances other than alcohol during pregnancy will not get FASD. However, using other substances during pregnancy is not a “safe” option for you or your baby. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest option is not to use any substances. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you have used substances during pregnancy.
FASD is still a relatively new field, and our knowledge and understanding of this disability is rapidly growing and changing. Research is an important step to building a complete understanding of FASD. Research helps us develop evidence-informed, effective supports, services, and policies that can help lessen the impact of FASD on individuals, families, and communities.
In order to develop effective research, we need to ensure the voices of all impacted parties are included. That is why CanFASD has built a network of stakeholders from across Canada who can help to inform our research at every step of the way.