What is FASD?

FASD is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was exposed to alcohol prenatally. Prenatal alcohol exposure has its primary impact on brain development and functioning. The effects of  exposure may vary based on the amount of alcohol consumed, the pattern and timing of the consumption, and maternal and genetic factors. Since FAS was first described in 1973 (Jones KL & Smith DW, 1973) it has become apparent that this disorder is actually a spectrum of conditions we now call Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

FASD is complex, with a wide range of expression in those affected—from severe growth restriction, intellectual disability, birth defects and characteristic dysmorphic facial features to normal growth, facial features and intellectual abilities.  Individuals affected will have life-long challenges because of the negative impact of alcohol on the developing brain.

FASD is an invisible disability for the majority of those affected. Most individuals with FASD do not display the physical features associated with the disorder, but are affected primarily by brain damage.

In the absence of identification and diagnosis, it may be assumed that the affected individual “won’t” comply with expectations, whereas the reality is that he/she “can’t”.  Societal expectations on the affected individual may not be congruent with his/her abilities.

“In Canada, it is estimated that between 2 and 5 percent of people may be living with FASD making it the leading known cause of developmental disability”. (Annual Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2015v- Chief Public Health Officer of Canada)

The cost of supporting those affected by FASD in Canada is estimated at $6.2 billion annually. The estimated return on investment in prevention of FASD is significant: “For every $150,000 dollars spent on prevention we will see $1.5 million dollars in return” (Thanh NX., & Jonsson E., 2009).

FASD is a complex public health and social issue that affects Ontarians in all walks of life.  While even low to moderate consumption of alcohol can interfere with the normal development of the fetus, heavy or frequent alcohol use increases the risk of delivering a baby with FASD.  While not everyone who consumes alcohol during pregnancy will have a baby affected by alcohol, there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.   Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should avoid alcohol.