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.
When medically diagnosed, people who fall under FASD are diagnosed with one of the following
FASD with sentinel features
FASD without sentinel features
FASD used to be referred to as fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects (FAS/FAE) FASD (FAS, ARND, pFAS) in older literature. The most conservative numbers estimate that over 3,000 babies a year are born with FASD. More recently, research by May et al (2009) suggest that the number of people with FASD could be as high as 2-5% of children in school in the U.S. Recent work by Canadian researchers have found prevalence of 2-3% in elementary age children in the greater Toronto area (CAMH, 2018) estimate a prevalence rate of 4% amongst the general Canadian population (Popova, Lange, Shield, Bird, & Rehm, 2019). Research suggests that there is greater prevalence in rural communities, child welfare systems, and justice systems. Stigma experienced by women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy have made getting support, diagnoses or assessments more challenging.
Some researchers identify the high prevalence in Indigenous populations is a symptom of historical and multigenerational trauma (e.g. residential schools) and, in some communities, an interest in understanding the scope/magnitude of FASD diagnoses in their area. However, a large number of pregnancies in the general population in Canada are unplanned, meaning that a large number of women in the early stages of their pregnancies - not knowing they are pregnant - may use alcohol and unknowingly impact the fetus.
If you suspect that a family member may have FASD, talk to your doctor about having them diagnosed. An early diagnosis can lead to interventions which will minimize the impact of FASD. There is no current research that clearly links alcohol consumption by the biological father of a person (with FASD) to FASD. However, it is important for any partner of a woman who is pregnant to consider their role and how it will affect her health and the anticipated health of the fetus. Partners are often encouraged (and are other household members) to abstain from drinking alcohol with a pregnant woman, as a form of support.