Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are fairly common in the United States, with some studies suggesting that as many as 5% of schoolchildren may be affected by one.

As with other developmental disorders, early diagnosis and intervention are key, and all parents and caregivers should be educated on the signs to look out for.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

The term fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) refers to a group of conditions caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb before birth. This exposure can often happen before a woman even knows that she is pregnant.

Diagnoses that fall under the FASD umbrella include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).

The effects of alcohol exposure in utero can include physical deformities, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities. Every child with FASD will be affected in different ways with a mix of these symptoms.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

A child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Poor growth
  • Low birth weight
  • Small head circumference
  • Lack of coordination
  • Developmental delays
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention deficit
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble in school
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Facial abnormalities (including wide-set eyes, thin upper lip, or flat nasal bridge)

While some signs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are present at birth, symptoms may worsen or become more apparent as the child grows and reaches school age.

Diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is most often diagnosed at birth or shortly after birth.

Doctors may suspect FASD by looking at your child’s symptoms in combination with their level of prenatal alcohol exposure. A diagnosis of FASD is usually confirmed by a physical exam and a psychological evaluation.

Your child’s doctor will most likely refer you to a developmental pediatrician or child psychologist for a complete evaluation. You will also need to find out more about the early intervention services offered by the state in which you reside. Usually, your child will need to undergo a free evaluation to see if they qualify. They do not need to be of school age to be able to take advantage of early intervention programs.

Treatment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

While there is no cure for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, early intervention and other “protective factors” can make a positive impact on a child’s growth and development.

Treatment options for FASD include:

  • Medication
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Educational interventions
  • Parent education

Protective factors include:

  • Early diagnosis
  • Positive, loving family and home environment
  • Taking advantage of special education services and other resources

If you have concerns about your child’s growth and development, early diagnosis and treatment are important. Please call us today to undergo evaluation and testing with a board-certified pediatrician.