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Let's Talk About FASD

September marks FASD Awareness Month and what better way to bring attention than sharing a few facts and resources about FASD from one of the leading research networks in Canada.

This information has been compiled from the Canada FASD Research Network


FAS stands for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The term FAS was first used in 1973 to describe a specific set of birth defects that were caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. In Canada, we now use the term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD to describe the range of impacts that can occur in the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is more inclusive of the true range of strengths and challenges that can occur from prenatal alcohol exposure, where FAS only captures a small portion of these impacts. 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.

· FASD impacts approximately 4% of Canadians.

· FASD impacts more people in Canada than Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, and Down syndrome combined.

· 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.

· 90% of individuals with FASD also experience mental health issues.

· The social and economic cost of FASD in Canada is estimated to be $1.8 billion annually.

· Individuals with FASD achieve positive outcomes if their needs and challenges are addressed early on in life and they have access to supports that carry into adulthood.

What are the signs and symptoms of 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.

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 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.

Can the brain recover from FASD?

FASD is a lifelong disorder. There is no cure, but early and appropriate supports can make a positive impact and improve outcomes for individuals with FASD.

How can you tell if someone has FASD?

You cannot tell if someone has FASD from their apperance. 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.

Is FASD Preventable?

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.

Is there any amount of alcohol that is safe to drink during pregnancy

There is no known safe amount, type, or time to consume alcohol during pregnancy. Experts agree that the safest option is not to drink alcohol if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive.

Can the child get FASD drugs are used during pregnancy?

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 either. The safest option is not to use any substances.

Interested in learning more on the topic from CANFASD? The section on Information for Caregivers includes many further resources for those interested in understanding more about living with FASD and supports that are avaliable.

Click on the link below to access more information


The Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary research network, with collaborators, researchers and partners across the nation. It is Canada’s first comprehensive national Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) research network. It started as an alliance of seven jurisdictions and operated for seven years as the Canada Northwest FASD Research Network.

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