Why Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Is Critical (Video)

mom dad walking little girl FASDBy William Allen, MD

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is not a clinical diagnosis, rather a term that includes a group of developmental disorders resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure.

There Is No Cure

These may include physical, mental, behavioral and/or learning disabilities, with possible lifelong implications that can affect each individual differently. Recent studies, including one at a site in North Carolina, showed that an estimated 1 in 20 school children have an FASD.

While there is not a “cure,” identifying the presence of an FASD is important, because those individuals with FASD are often treated as if they are “bad” or that their parents do not know how to discipline them. With an accurate and early diagnosis, appropriate interventions can be provided, and children with an FASD can achieve their full potential.

The Right Environment

Of key importance for individuals with an FASD is the presence of a stable and nurturing home environment, one absent of exposure to violence. Since FASD is a brain-based disability and impairment in memory is common, there are limitations to the use of consequences and rewards to help children learn right from wrong.

Verbal directions and discussions may be ineffective, but picture charts are often better in helping children understand directions and appropriate behaviors. Also, “over learning” is often necessary, such that repeating new information many times and in different approaches. Remembering to match the teaching approach with the developmental age of a child rather than the chronological age is crucial (“how would I help a younger child understand this information?”).

Getting Help

The first step to providing appropriate interventions for those with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is making the diagnosis. Mission Fullerton Genetics Center is available to provide evaluation and diagnosis for patients, as well as align patients with the appropriate resources.


William Allen, MD, is a clinical geneticist at Mission Fullerton Genetics Center.

Mission Fullerton Genetics Center is the region’s only comprehensive genetics and personalized medicine program. To learn more about our services, visit missionhealth.org/genetics. [1]