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FASD Overview

What is an FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who is exposed to alcohol during the nine-month period before birth. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. The term FASD is not intended for use as a clinical diagnosis.  Diagnostic terms under the FASD umbrella include: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), and Neurodevelopmental Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE).

How can someone get an FASD?

A child is at risk of having an FASD if exposed to alcohol during any time during pregnancy.  Alcohol can harm an embryo or fetus at any time, even before a woman knows she is pregnant.  Many women drink early in pregnancy but stop drinking when they learn they are pregnant.  Those babies are still at risk for having an FASD (  According to the Institute of Medicine (1996), “Of all the substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.”

How many people in the US have an FASD?

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that as many as 1 in 20 people may be affected by FASD, but less than 1% of the cases were diagnosed (May et al., 2018).  People working in various systems are serving undiagnosed individuals with an FASD, including education, child welfare, juvenile and criminal justice, and developmental disabilities.


What are some strengths of a person with an FASD?

It is important to remember that even though individuals with FASD may have cognitive and behavioral symptoms, they have many positive traits.  Persons with FASD are often seen as:

  • Friendly;

  • Talkative;

  • Having a strong desire to be liked;

  • Wanting to be helpful;

  • Highly verbal;

  • Bright in some areas;

  • Artistic, musical, mechanical;

  • Athletic;

  • Friendly, outgoing, affectionate;

  • Determined;

  • Persistent;

  • Willing;

  • Helpful;

  • Generous; and

  • Good with younger children or older adults.


What are some characteristics of FASD?

While each person with FASD is unique, some common effects of FASD cause individuals to:

  • Have difficulty identifying dangerous people or situations,

  • Model the behavior of those around them,

  • “Get it” one day and not the next,

  • Have difficulty following multiple directions/rules,

  • Use literal thinking,

  • Have difficulty linking cause and effect,

  • Have difficulty organizing,

  • Have misunderstood or unexpected emotional or behavioral symptoms,

  • Have a desire to make friends, but may have difficulty doing so,

  • Have difficulty understanding consequences of action, and

  • Present with characteristics of ADHD but not respond to typical medications.


What does SDRC do for people with FASD?

With identification and appropriate supports, people with an FASD can thrive. SDRC is committed to increasing diagnostic capacity in the state of Arkansas, increasing awareness, supporting caregivers, educating school personnel and those working in the criminal justice system, and training health care professionals to deliver therapies and interventions that are of the highest quality.

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