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What is FASD?

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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder (FASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder resulting from Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (PAE).  A neurodevelopmental disorder is a disorder where the development of the Central Nervous System (CNS) is disturbed or changed.

FASD is a brain-based invisible physical disability with behavioural symptoms.  It is not a mental health diagnosis.

FASD is a highly complex disorder, associated with trauma, victimization and other life adversities.

The effects of PAE are complex and vary by individual.  These affects may include lifelong physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.  This is why FASD is referred to as a Spectrum.

FASD is a developmental disability and is the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada.  A developmental disability is defined as: A state of functioning that begins in childhood (before age 18) and is characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual capacity and adaptive skills.

FASD can also be referred to as a neurobehavioural disorder.  A neurobehavioural disorder is a group of behavioural changes, deficits, and impairments seen in association with permanent brain impairments (e.g. Metabolic and toxic encephalopathies such as FASD), brain disease (e.g. stroke, multiple sclerosis, etc.) and/or injury (e.g. Trauma, hypoxia, etc.).

FASD became the official diagnostic term when the Canadian diagnostic guidelines were revised in 2015.

"Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and the 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." CanFASD 2019

Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • individual had all three facial features

  • pre and/or post growth issues

  • impacted brain


partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  • two facial features

  • pre and/or post growth issues

  • impacted brain

  • confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure


Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder

  • impacted brain

  • confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure


Alcohol Related Birth Defects

  • impacted brain

  • birth defects

  • confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure


Debolt, Donna (2018, September).  FASD Informed practice considerations.  Developmental Services Resource Centre Waterloo Region.  Waterloo, Ontario.

McLachlin, Kaitlyn (2017, November).  Hamilton FASD Conference 2017.  Moving Forward FASD Conference.  Hamilton, Ontario.

Scott, Louise A (2016, March). FASD 101 +: The Practical Realities.  Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.  Hamilton, Ontario.

Cook JL, Green CR, Lilley CM, et al.; (2015) Canadian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: a guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan. CAMJ.

Green, Courtner R., et al. (2015, March).  Why is FASD diagnosis important? CanFASD.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2006). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD):

A framework for action. Available at

Chudley, A. E., Conry, J., Cook, J. L., Loock, C., Rosales, T., & LeBlanc, N. (2005). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Canadian guidelines for diagnosis. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 172(5), S1-S21.

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