What is FASD?

What is FASD?


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term which refers to a range of conditions caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, including 

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders - alcohol exposed


The effects of fetal alcohol exposure are life-long and may not be seen at birth.



Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

A minority of children will have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS) which can be identified by abnormal facial features:

  • a smooth philtrum (no groove between the upper lip and nose)
  • thin vermillion border (thin upper lip)
  • short palpebral fissures (small eye openings)


The facial development of the fetus occurs mainly between weeks 4 and 8. The distinctive facial features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are included in the photos below. Photos have been reproduced with permission from Susan Astley, University of Washington

For more information please go to the University of Washington FAS Diagnostic & Prevention Network website



FAS Facial features





Children with  Fetal Alcohol Syndrome will also have:

  • low birth weight 
  • a small head
  • poor growth 
  • brain damage
  • social and behavioural problems
  • delayed development
  • low IQ



Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

A baby or child with Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome will have some but not all of the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.



Neurodevelopmental Disorders - Alcohol Exposed

The majority of children with FASD will fall within this category. They will not have the facial features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but will have a range of symptoms caused by damage to different parts of the brain.


Alcohol causes widespread damage to the brain structure of the developing fetus and will have lifelong effects on the person. The diagram below shows which parts of the brain are responsible for how we think, act and behave and the problems that may be caused by prenatal alcohol exposure.



Brain development & alcohol



The dame to the developing brain can cause:


  • Low IQ
  • Birth defects
  • Poor growth
  • Developmental delay
  • Language and speech deficits
  • Problems with sensory systems - vision, hearing, touch
  • Motor coordination problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High levels of activity
  • Difficulty remembering and an inability generalise their learning
  • A short attention span
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Problems with maths, time and money
  • Poor judgement and are not able to understand the consequences of their actions
  • Social and behavioural problems
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and sometimes being indiscriminately friendly

Babies and infant symptoms can include:


  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Low birth weight
  • Decreased muscle tone and poor coordination
  • Delayed development such as walking and talking
  • Hypersensitivity to noise, light and touch
  • Bonding problems




Researchers and parents say that it is not 'bad behaviour' but the actions of an infant or child who has damage to their brain and who is unable to control what they do.  


Early recognition of alcohol-exposed infants and early diagnosis of FASD is crucial to allow a process of assessment and therapy for children at the earliest age possible to improve children's social, health and educational outcomes and decrease the risk of secondary disabilities such as school failure, unemployment, substance abuse, mental health disorders and engagement with the criminal justice system. The aim is to improve long term outcomes for children, to help treat vulnerable women and their families, and to prevent subsequent births of affected children. Read more about Diagnosing FASD.



Is FASD a new phenomena? 


Read the history of FASD                   



FASD Advocacy and Support Organisations


National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Australia (NOFASD Australia)

NOFASD Australia is an independent not-for-profit charitable organisation. They are the national peak organisation representing the interests of individuals and families living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Their Vision is the prevention of alcohol exposed pregnancies in Australia and an improved quality of life for those living with FASD. For more information please visit the website, contact them via email or phone 1300 306 238



Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association (rffada) 

rffada is a national not-for-profit health promotion charity dedicated to ensuring that individuals affected prenatally by alcohol have access to diagnostic services, support and multidisciplinary management planning in Australia and that carers and parents are supported with a "no blame no shame" ethos. For more information please visit the website or contact them via email.







Drinking alcohol during pregnancy

Can cause a baby to be born with life-long disabilities