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Mental Birth Defects: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Updated on May 22, 2015

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

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FASD: An Overview

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are a range of conditions caused by the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Like Down syndrome, FASD is a developmental, lifetime condition with no cure that affects one’s behavior, learning capabilities, attention span and memory as well as introducing a variety of physical issues. These can range from abnormal facial features, problems with the central nervous system, and low height and weight. Someone suffering with FASD typically has a combination of these problems (Facts about FASDs). Considering that it is so easily preventable, FASD occurs at a startlingly high rate in North America, at 9.1 cases per 1,000 births. It’s the most common form of preventable brain injury (Mclachlan). Interestingly enough, according to Evaluating the Psycholegal Abilities of Young Offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, “…[F]indings suggest individuals with FASD (largely ARND) are overrepresented in criminal justice settings, with estimates ranging from 10% to 23%” (Mclachlan). FASD appears to be correlated with criminal activity.

The Spectrum of Disorders

FASD is a far-reaching term to describe the variety of physical and mental conditions caused by prenatal alcohol consumption. It encompasses several different subsets, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), and Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). FAS is the most extensive and severe level of FASD, affecting the patient’s physical features and cognitive functions. pFAS is a less severe form of FAS’s impairments, while ARND retains FAS’s mental retardation without the physical indicators (Mclachlan).

Prevent FASD - Don't Drink During Pregnancy

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Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndromes

Symptoms of FASD typically include abnormal facial features, a small head size, low weight and height, poor coordination, hyperactive behavior, poor attention span, poor memory, learning disabilities, speech and language delays, low IQ or intellectual disabilities, poor reasoning and judgment skills, vision or hearing problems, and problems with the heart, kidneys or bones (Facts about FASDs). This list is far from extensive; it only includes visible symptoms. Far more happens on a cognitive level.

FASD results in a variety of learning, social and behavioral difficulties. Similar to Down syndrome, those with FASD can suffer developmental delays, including issues with speech, causing stuttering and stammering. Processing and thinking skills especially suffer; this can make abstract concepts such as math extremely challenging. Applying previously learned knowledge is also difficult, due to the abnormal learning curve that can often frustrate teachers. One day a student with FASD may be making progress, the next he might appear to forget how to apply what he just learned (A Closer Look at Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). A student with FASD might memorize a formula or process for solving a problem well enough, but the next day he or she may struggle to incorporate the formula or process.

Fetal Alcohol Syndromes are devastating
Fetal Alcohol Syndromes are devastating | Source

Living With a Fetal Alcohol Disorder

These mental challenges mean that FASD patients must be placed in special education programs as soon as possible; even young infants can be helped to foster better motor and intellectual development. Once they hit preschool, individualized education programs can be beneficial to help with the variety of developmental and language delays. Placement in special education programs continues into elementary school and beyond; it incorporates small classroom sizes and an increased level of individual attention. Unfortunately, while remedial education may prevent further deterioration, it has not been shown to further increase the mental capabilities of children with FASD. Patients tend to reach their academic peak at a high school level. Sadly, many with FASD will graduate from high school incapable of basic life skills like managing money, driving a car and holding a job (A Closer Look at Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).

Clearly, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders have vast repercussions on victims’ minds, affecting their capacity to lead normal, independent lives. They often require parental or caregiver supervision throughout their entire lives. Because it is so easily preventable, it is particularly painful to see someone with FASD. Hopefully, with further research and time, progress can be made towards treating this disease.

Works Cited

"A Closer Look at Fetal Alcohol Syndrome." A Closer Look at Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Texas

Department of Family and Protective Services. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. <>.

Mclachlan, Kaitlyn, Ronald Roesch, Jodi L. Viljoen, and Kevin S. Douglas. "Evaluating the

Psycholegal Abilities of Young Offenders With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder." Law and Human Behavior (2012). PsycARTICLES. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.

"Facts about FASDs." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Dec.


© 2015 JB


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    • Gordon Wright profile image

      Gordon Wright 2 years ago

      Sadly, the sort of women who drink while pregnant are not the sort of women to heed your advice when you tell them not to drink while pregnant. FAS is easily preventable in theory only.

      I've known FASD cases and I've known their mothers. Education won't fix anything.