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July 9, 2014
by Christie Hunter

Parenting a Child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

July 9, 2014 04:55 by Christie Hunter  [About the Author]

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, as the name implies is an umbrella term used to cover a number of learning and cognitive disabilities.  A child born with FASD may have birth defects and major disabilities like deformed limbs, weak heart etc. Moreover, it is also possible that the child may suffer from multiple mental and physical disabilities and disorders at the same time.  According to a number of researchers, FASD has become one of the biggest factors for increasing number of birth defects among children during past few years (Warren, 2011).1

As FASD is characterized by common psychological/physical disorders and learning disabilities, it is often misdiagnosed with ECD (Early Childhood Development) disorders. This article will give a brief overview of the disorder and guide parents to identify the symptoms of FASD in their child. Moreover, the recommended ways through which the syndrome can be prevented and treated are also highlighted. 

What is FASD?

According to Rasmussen et al. (2008), 2 Smith and Jones used the term FASD in 1973 to define the series of disabilities and mental disorders which are diagnosed in children during early childhood years due to excessive alcohol consumption of mothers during pregnancy. Later researches investigated that mothers suffering from prenatal depression (a depressive disorder experienced by women during pregnancy), usually consume a large amount of alcohol to vent out depression. Due to excessive consumption of alcohol, mothers suffer from abrupt blood pressure, lack of sleep and loss of appetite. This not only impacts the overall health of the mother, but also blocks proper supply of oxygen and nutrition to the child in the womb. As a result of malnutrition, the child may suffer from physical and mental disabilities.

FASD-Related Disabilities

Ase (2013) 3 mentioned in the research study that the extent of disabilities in children suffering from FASD depends on the paternal exposure to alcohol. FASD-related disabilities are broadly characterized as primary, secondary and physical disabilities. Here is a quick review of FASD-related disabilities to help parents differentiate between FASD and other disorders.

1. Primary Disabilities

Primary disabilities are associated with the permanent brain damage to the child due to maternal exposure to alcohol. Some of the many primary disabilities are:

·       Memory Loss- A child born with FASD may suffer from short-term or long-term memory loss, depending on which part of the brain has been damaged. Such a child may suffer from delayed learning disorders.

·       Information Processing- FASD can also impact the ability of a child to process visual or audio information. A child may also find it difficult to conceptualize mathematical problems and abstract information.

·       Impaired Speech- A child suffering from FASD also finds it difficult to speak large sentences and difficult words. This disability is often misdiagnosed as dyslexia, but unlike dyslexia, FASD-related communication disabilities cannot be cured.

·       Delayed Cognitive Development- Delayed learning abilities and improper development of cognitive skills are also associated with FASD.

2. Secondary Disabilities

FASD-related secondary disabilities include improper defensive behavior and disability of a person to fit with the environment and adjust with environmental changes. Such a person may be bullied by others, thus making him/her prone to chronic depressive and manic disorders.

3. Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities may include physical birth defects like deformed body parts. A person with FASD may also suffer from partial paralysis due to brain damage. Physical disabilities also include poorly developed sensory organs (Kondo (2012).4

Can FASD be Cured?

Balachova et al. (2013) 5 discussed a number of long-term effects of FASD on the early childhood development and adult life of a person. FASD, as suggested by doctors, cannot be cured permanently. Although the disorder can be prevented, there is no medication that can permanently cure the disease. However, here is a list of some clinically approved ways through which parents can help a child with FASD:

1. Support

Family support is very important to help a child overcome the challenges associated with FASD. Physicians suggest that only parents and siblings can boost the self-confidence in a child suffering from FASD-related disabilities.

2. Therapy

Therapy and counseling can a help a child accept the reality and deal with it strategically. Therapists help FASD patients think positively and stay motivated.

3. FASD Prevention Therapy for Pregnant Mothers

Mothers suffering from prenatal depression are recommended to take counseling sessions and alcohol-prevention therapies to reduce the risk of FASD. Moreover, these therapies also help mothers to cope with negative stressors without relying on anti-depressants.


1. Warren K. R., Hewitt B. G., Thomas J. D. (2011). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: research challenges and opportunities. Alcohol Res Health.

2. Rasmussen C., Andrew G., and Tough S. (2008). Neurobehavioral outcomes of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: A Canadian perspective.

3. Ase F. (2013). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Finnish children and adolescents : diagnosis, cognition, behavior, adaptation and brain metabolic alterations.

4. Kondo LM. (2012). Investigating a Model for Fetal Alcohol Damage in Caenorhabditis elegans.

5. Balachova T., Bonner BL., Chaffin M., Isurina G., and Knowlton N. (2013). Brief FASD prevention intervention: physicians’ skills demonstrated in a clinical trial in Russia.

About the Author

Christie Hunter

Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at -

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