While in most countries, FASD is used as an “umbrella” term to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was prenatally exposed to alcohol, in 2015 Canada adopted FASD as a diagnostic term (Day 25 of 99 Days to FASDay: Diagnostic Categories). Australia (and I heard France but can’t confirm) also use Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as a diagnostic term.
There are different definitions of FASD under the “umbrella term” so it is best to find the one that is used in your own state or country when talking about FASD. Just remember that terms are different for different countries – which also adds to confusion for the public.
From Proof Alliance in the United States:
Children with prenatal alcohol exposure are at risk of having fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD is not a diagnosis but rather an umbrella term describing the range of birth defects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications.
There are many terms under the FASD umbrella, including these medical diagnoses:
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorders (ARND)
- Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
- Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
According to the CanFASD (Canada FASD Research Network):
Today, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term that describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was prenatally exposed to alcohol. These effects can include lifelong physical, mental, and behavioural difficulties, as well as learning disabilities.
Depending on the amount and the timing of alcohol exposure, a minority of infants exposed will also develop a characteristic pattern of facial features, and some will have a growth deficiency. However, those effects are relatively rare and have little impact on day-to-day function. Decades ago, the facial features of FASD received a lot of attention in the press. The presence or absence of facial features depends on whether alcohol was consumed in a very narrow window of time during pregnancy. It does NOT reflect the degree of brain disorder.
The vast majority of people with FASD are not visibly different; you cannot see FASD. Although in a very small percentage of people the face may look different, the important fact is that in all individuals with FASD, the function of the brain is permanently affected.
Alcohol exposure during pregnancy results in changes to the developing brain at neurochemical and structural levels. Often, these changes are not detected until a child reaches early or middle school-age when difficulties at school and at home become increasingly problematic. These challenges can include problems in social communication and attention, motor and sensory problems, memory, and difficulty learning from consequences. As an individual grows, they are also at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
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