What is FASD?

is 100% Preventable!


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who is prenatally exposed to alcohol. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. FASDs can impact individuals differently. Most individuals don’t show any physical signs of the disorder, but have brain damage which is the most challenging aspect of this disability.

The term FASDs is not intended for use as a clinical diagnosis.

Diagnostic terms under the FASDs umbrella may include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)


NOFAS FASD Identification Sheet

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a medical diagnosis resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). FAS was defined and named in 1973 and is characterized by abnormalities in three domains: 1) growth deficiency, 2) central nervous system dysfunction resulting in neurobehavioral disorders, and 3) a specific pattern of facial abnormalities. Confirmed maternal use of alcohol may or may not be documented.

Individuals who do not meet diagnostic criteria in all three domains might be diagnosed with one of the other conditions under the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders continuum, such as Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder or Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE).

Source: FASD Competency-Based Curriculum Development Guide (2008)

Individuals with pFAS may have some features, but not all. The individual does not meet the full diagnostic criteria for FAS but may have a history of prenatal alcohol exposure, some facial abnormalities, as well as a growth problems or CNS abnormalities.
Individuals with an ARND may have intellectual disabilities and problems with behavior and learning, but do not have the FAS facial abnormalities.
What is Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)?

ND-PAE is a neurocognitive disability, where an individual can have problems with learning, and behavior challenges.  ND-PAE is a mental health diagnosis and is listed in the appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)  as a “condition for further study”. Clinicians may evaluate a patient for ND-PAE by recording “other specified neurobehavioral disorder” followed by the specific reason: prenatal alcohol exposure and use Code 315.8.


Source: National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, 2016

Individuals with ARBD might have problems with the heart, kidneys, or bones or with hearing. They might have a mix of these.

FASDs is caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy, no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy and there is no safe type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can affect the developing baby throughout the entire pregnancy, even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Drinking alcohol up to the 13th week of pregnancy can cause:

  • severe brain damage;
  • problems with the heart, liver and kidneys;
  • miscarriage;
  • facial malformations.

Drinking alcohol between weeks 14 and 26 can cause:

  • brain damage;
  • miscarriage;
  • damaged muscles, skin, teeth, glands and bones.

Drinking alcohol between weeks 27 and 40 can cause:

  • brain and lung damage;
  • low birth weight;
  • early labor and delivery.


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Great question!

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or have just found out you are pregnant. Please stop drinking now! Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is 100% preventable!  If a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, they will not have an FASD.

If you are sexually active and consume alcohol, it is recommended that you and your partner use a reliable and consistent birth control method to help prevent an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.

If you need assistance to stop using alcohol or other substance, please contact the NC Alcohol and Drug Council for more information.


Unfortunately no, FASDs cannot be cured. The damage that occurs when a baby is exposed to alcohol during pregnancy cannot be reversed.  However, studies show that early identification (before age 6), interventions and support can help an individual with FASDs reach their full potential.

What we cannot change about FASDs are called Primary Characteristics and include:

  • Facial features associated with FAS;
  • Height and weight (small in stature);
  • Brain damage (learning disabilities, memory problems, poor impulse control).

Secondary Characteristics can be reduced and possibly prevented with early identification and support within the home and school setting. Secondary characteristics can include:

  • Mental health problems;
  • Disrupted school experience;
  • Family conflict;
  • Trouble with the law;
  • Confinement (includes jail, mental health and chemical dependency treatment);
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior;
  • Alcohol/drug problems;
  • Dependent living;
  • Employment problems.
FASDs itself does not cause these behaviors. These behaviors are a symptom of the brain damage caused by the alcohol exposure.  We must look instead at what these behaviors are trying to communicate. If an individual lacks certain communication skills and an understanding of cause and effect, these behaviors may be the only the tool that the individual possesses to communicate frustration, discomfort and lack of understanding.

Ann Streissguth (1996) has conducted a long-term study of the secondary disabilities associated with FAS.

Although FASDs can be diagnosed by a clinical geneticist, it is not a genetic disorder. If an individual is not exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, they will not have FASDs.

Based on current research, the alcohol exposure must occur prenatally (during pregnancy) to cause FASDs. However, studies do show that men who consume alcohol or use illicit substances can impact their offspring genetically.

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Also, if a woman is trying to refrain from alcohol during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the support of her family and significant other is extremely important. Some partners are choosing not to drink during these times as well.

The Impact of Alcohol
on the Developing Brain


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Interventions for Addressing Behaviors


Just as people with disabilities may need external support to accomplish daily living tasks, so do people with FASDs. But instead of needing ramps and wheelchairs to maneuver through their daily life, they may require an “external brain”. Essentially, that means that the people who are important in the life of a person with FASDs (parents, family members, teachers, counselors) need to make adjustments to the environment so it is structured, predictable and consistent. This will help the person with FASDs be successful.

Every child or adult with FASDs is unique, so interventions and accommodations should be individualized to meet their special needs. Remember that FASDs is brain damage and how an individual may function will vary depending on where they are on the spectrum. Below are some general guidelines for parents and professionals to consider.


  • Connector.

    Be Consistent.

    It is really important for the caregivers to be in agreement about how they are going to address challenging behaviors and to select interventions that address the child’s specific needs. Constant reinforcement of these positive strategies in both the home and learning environment are critical.

  • Connector.

    Keep it Simple.

    People with FASDs often learn the best in a simple environment with few distractions. They also often learn best with simple, concise instructions. It may be helpful to address the child at their developmental age, instead of their chronological age. Caregivers may find it helpful to take the child’s age and cut it in half. That is the age you can expect them to act, and how you interact with them.

  • Connector.

    Structure, Structure, Structure!

    Structure helps people with FASDs make sense out of the world. So, it is important for the caregivers to provide as much structure in their daily schedule as possible. Using a picture schedule to help children with an FASD understand the daily schedule is also very helpful.

  • Connector.

    Be Specific.

    Often people with FASDs are literal thinkers. It is important for the caregivers to be very specific about what is expected in concrete terms. Say exactly what you mean and avoid abstract language. Give directions step by step. Break larger tasks into smaller tasks.

  • Connector.

    Provide Supervision.

    People with an FASD can sometimes accidentally get into trouble because they do not always anticipate the consequences of their actions. It is important to provide adequate supervision to assure that they stay safe.