What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASD, is an umbrella term describing a range of conditions and disabilities that arise from fetal alcohol exposure.

Different medical terms are given to distinguish clinical findings and diagnoses. But the common thread is how FASD impacts every aspect of an affected person's life.

When the mother drinks during pregnancy, the baby does, too. But the baby is so small that the alcohol damages the baby’s developing organs. Alcohol is a known teratogen—it causes abnormal fetal growth and development.

The brain and central nervous system are especially susceptible to injury from alcohol because they develop throughout the entire pregnancy (and beyond). Resulting cognitive, behavioral and physical deficits impact learning, decision making, social skills and how the person is able to relate to the world. Comorbid conditions are common and can create further complications.

In addition to these effects, this section addresses some frequently asked questions about FASD and discusses the process for diagnosing the various conditions that fall under FASD.


How common is FASD? Some sources cite 1 in 1000 births. Newer information (including that from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) cites 1 in 100 births.

The smaller statistic accounts only for children who possess all the diagnostic criteria for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is only one form of FASD. The higher statistic of 1 in 100 births includes all diagnoses related to FASD:

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
+ partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
+ Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND)
+ Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

= 1 in 100 live births affected by fetal alcohol damage, collectively known as FASD

Although it doesn’t cause mental retardation in all its victims, FASD is the # 1 cause of mental retardation in the United States. And it is 100% preventable.

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