The truth about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder



Man Blurred Background Fashion Casual Girl HandFetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is often overlooked and understudied. Caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, it is sometimes referred to as an “invisible disorder.”

But FASD is the most common preventable cause of developmental disability. Many who have it experience lifelong behavioural, intellectual, neurological and mental health difficulties.

Individuals with FASD and their families also face persistent stigma, negative stereotypes and harmful biases,due to public misunderstandings.

Negative public attitudes are detrimental to people living with FASD, impacting their self-esteem and beliefs in their own capabilities. Research shows that with the right supports, individuals with FASD can live productive and successful lives. However a common, and often inaccurate, misconception is that these individuals are destined to be lifelong “burdens” on health and social systems.

As FASD researchers, we want to dispel common misunderstandings about children and youth with FASD, and offer some evidence-based truths.

More common than autism

FASD is alarmingly common, with an estimated four per cent of Canadians having the disorder, far more than previously thought. Affecting approximately 1.5 million Canadians, this means it is 2.5 times more prevalent than autism spectrum disorder.

FASD affects children and youth across all races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic status. In Canada, women of all ages and backgrounds consume alcohol.

Despite recent prevention efforts, approximately 11 per cent of Canadians mothers report consuming alcohol during pregnancy, with more than three per cent reporting alcohol binges during pregnancy. This is probably an underrepresentation, as some mothers deny drinking during pregnancy due to negative stigma.

You also can’t necessarily tell that someone has FASD by how they look. Less than 10 per cent of individuals with FASD have the associated facial features — short palpebral fissures, smooth philtrum and thin upper lip.

For most individuals living with FASD, the invisibility of the disorder is problematic because it acts as a barrier to early identification and treatment, both of which are important for long-term outcomes.

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