What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

Some Notable Statistics

  • Based on the most current research, the estimated prevalence of FASD in the general Canadian population is 4%. However, rates of FASD are believed to be much higher in certain groups, including children in care and individuals involved in the justice system.
  • An estimated 160,000 Albertans are living with FASD. Each year, more than 500 Alberta babies are born with FASD.

Root causes of FASD

While prenatal alcohol exposure 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.

What challenges do individuals with FASD contend with?

Individuals with FASD experience a range of challenges to varying degree. These can include:

  • 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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