Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

What is FASD?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of under-recognized neurodevelopmental disorders affecting many Pennsylvanians and their families across the lifespan.  An FASD may occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD-related effects can include physical problems, and especially problems with behavior and learning. Often, a person with an FASD has a mix of these problems (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).

There is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. In-utero exposure to alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout an entire pregnancy, including the period of time before a woman knows she’s pregnant. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer.  According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation and birth defects in the United States, and affects about 40,000 babies each year—more than spina bifida, Downs Syndrome and muscular dystrophy combined.

Specific effects of FASD include growth deficits, mental retardation, physical defects, behavior problems, attention and memory problems, poor judgment, and difficulties with motor skills, all with potential lifelong implications. Additional mental health disorders and symptoms for children and adolescents with FASD include the following: oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attachment disorder, sleep disorders, extreme aggressiveness, extreme impulsivity and learning disabilities.

FASD is 100% preventable, if a pregnant woman does not drink any alcohol (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). While there is no cure for FASD once present, early identification and intervention can significantly improve the prognosis.

Prevalence of FASD

According to recent studies, the prevalence of FASD in the United States is estimated to be 2.4 – 4.8 in 100 (May et al., 2014).  Based upon the number of births in PA in 2014, this rate would mean that between 3,983 and 6,830 children were born with an FASD in PA.  Calculated on a daily basis, every day 11-19 Pennsylvania children begin their lives with an FASD.