What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a complex range of brain injuries that can result when a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy.

Among the known causes of cognitive disabilities in North America, FASD tops the a life-long condition with no cure – one that occurs in all segments of society.

Some Notable Statistics

  • An estimated 36,000 Albertans are living with FASD. Each year, more than 450 Alberta babies are born with FASD.
  • As 40% of pregnancies are unplanned, a high risk of prenatal exposure to alcohol
  • 40% of Albertans reported knowing someone with FASD or someone caring for an individual with FASD

Root causes of FASD

While alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the direct cause of FASD, the answer to “What is the cause of FASD?” isn’t so clear-cut.

The underlying factors that impel women to drink during pregnancy are numerous. They range from lack of information about the risks of drinking while pregnant, drinking prior to pregnancy recognition and social pressures to drink to dependence on alcohol and untreated or unrecognised mental health problems.

Complex social and biological determinants consequences. These include genetics, poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of social support networks and personal autonomy. The risks for alcohol-exposed pregnancies are also associated with adverse life events, gender-based violence, trauma, stress and social isolation.

The Prevention Conversation needs to respond and adapt to the social, economic and cultural context of each participant in the conversation.


Is FASD the same as “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome”?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a combination of mental and physical disabilities that include distinctive facial abnormalities known to many as “FAS face.”

Individuals with FASD have brain damage similar to those with FAS but may have no physical symptoms. As such, the broader range of disorders known as FASD are often called “invisible disabilities.”

In the absence of easy diagnosis, these individuals often struggle with a disability that is neither acknowledged nor understood, and they remain disconnected from crucial quality of life.

What challenges do individuals with FASD contend with?

Every individual with FASD experiences and needs. Some typical symptoms:

  • Learning and memory difficulties
  • Speech and language problems (receptive and expressive)
  • Short attention span, impulsive behaviour, easily overwhelmed and expectations)
  • Social difficulties (poor grasp of social rules and expectations)
  • Sensory difficulties (hearing, vision, touch, smell)
  • Physical problems (facial abnormalities, growth deficiency, coordination and motor difficulties, organ defects and skeletal abnormalities)


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