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What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

FASD is the term used to describe the range of disorders that can occur from prenatal alcohol poisoning.  It is a complex, neurodevelopmental disorder. Harm can occur during all stages of the pregnancy.  Learning, cognition, and behavior are typically affected.  Most people with FASD have a typical IQ, even though it is the most common cause of intellectual deficit in North America. Even with typical IQ, a child or adult with this disorder typically struggles with adaptive functioning (skills for everyday living). A recent national study revealed that 2 to 5% of every 1st-grade child has this complex disability. Given the seriousness of FASD, one would expect that most professionals know about the disorder. Unfortunately, this is not the case even though FASD is more common than Autism.

FASD is often invisible.  People affected may not have outward facing signs of a disability.  While developmental dysmaturity is a distinguishing trait among people with FASD, expressive language is often high.  This can trick everyone into thinking someone with prenatal alcohol exposure is more capable than they are, leading to unrealistic expectations and failure.  The frustration from these expectations and the permanent brain damage in a person with FASD can lead to high anxiety and a variety of unwanted behaviors. 

  • Quick temper, aggression

  • Verbal outbursts

  • Confabulation (appears as lying to an untrained eye)

  • Distraction, Innattention

  • Flat affect, disengaged

  • Inability to do everyday tasks

  • School difficulties

  • Social difficulties

With the right environment and understanding, people with FASD can be successful. 

FASD: The Invisible Disability

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