Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Toolkit

This FASD Awareness Toolkit contains information and tools to help raise awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

FASD - factsheet

What is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the name given to a group of permanent conditions that a person can have when (s)he was exposed to alcohol prenatally. These conditions include physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as problems with behaviour and learning. Often, a person has a mix of these problems. FASD is the leading known preventable cause of intellectual disability and birth defects.

What causes FASD and how can it be prevented?

FASD is caused by maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant. All drinks that contain alcohol can harm an unborn baby. There is no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can harm a baby at any time during pregnancy.

So, to prevent FASD, women should not drink alcohol while pregnant, or even when they might get pregnant. FASD is preventable. If women do not drink alcohol during pregnancy, their children will not have FASD.

What are some signs of FASD?

Signs of FASD can be physical or intellectual. That means they can affect the mind or the body, or both. Because FASD is made up of a group of disorders, people with FASD can show a wide range and mix of signs.

Physical signs of FASD can include abnormal facial features such as narrow eye openings and a smooth philtrum (the ridge between the upper lip and nose), small head size, short stature, and low body weight.

Problems with the body's organs, vision and hearing, heart, kidneys or bone structure are common. Intellectual and behavioural signs of FASD might include problems with memory, judgment or impulse control, motor skills, learning (especially in numeracy), paying attention, and low IQ. Specific learning disabilities are also possible.


FASD lasts a lifetime. There is no cure for FASD, but research shows that early intervention and appropriate treatment can improve a child's development.

There are many types of treatment options, including medication to help with some symptoms, behaviour and education therapy, parent training, and other cognitive and behavioural approaches. No one treatment is right for every child. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups, and changes as needed along the way.

In addition, "protective factors" can help reduce the effects of FASD and help people with these conditions reach their full potential.

Protective factors include:

  • Diagnosis before 6 years of age
  • Loving, nurturing and stable home environment during the school years
  • Absence of violence in the home
  • Involvement of additional support for learning and social services.

Source: FAS Aware information sheets


Email: Gillian Heavie

Back to top