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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

The effects of FAS can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy.

General Information

The way women absorb and process alcohol is not the same as men. Women who drink alcohol can have more negative health effects than men, even if they drink less or for a shorter time.

When pregnant women drink alcohol, this increases the risk of having a baby with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD can lead to physical, mental, behavioral and/or learning disabilities.

FASD is a term that covers many conditions, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS is the most severe type of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and is a life-long condition.

Babies with FAS:

  • Can have abnormal facial features
  • Often grow more slowly than other babies
  • Can have central nervous system problems
  • Can have mental disabilities

The U.S. Surgeon General says that women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy. Even though most women know this, many women don’t stop drinking until they have a positive pregnancy test, which can be four to eight weeks after conception.


Find out more

General Information

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD’s) are often lifelong disabilities. Children with FAS and FASD need a great deal of support and supervision.
 
It’s important for parents to find resources and support systems. Start by visiting the  National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) Web site.


Ideas for helping your child

At the doctor
Because FASD’s can be “invisible,” they are often overlooked and may be hard to diagnose correctly. A doctor may need to observe your child over time as he or she grows. Find a “medical home” for your child; find a pediatrician you trust and keep going to that doctor.
 
At school
Advocate for your child. Ask your child’s doctor to help work with your child’s school. Both mothers and fathers can bring different skills in advocating for their child.
 
At home
It is important for children with FAS or FASD to have a stable, nurturing home where they feel safe and have constant supervision. Children in foster care need to avoid multiple moves, as this can be extremely traumatic for a child with FAS.
 
More ideas:

  • Get help early. If you notice your child is having problems, ask for early intervention through screening and assessment.
  • Find a developmental clinic where your child could be referred. Look for a clinic with a developmental pediatrician and a team of staff who will assess your child and write a treatment plan.
  • Keep a detailed record of your child’s medical care and any resources you use. Write a summary of your child’s diagnosis, medical complications, treatment and necessary follow-up care.
  • Look for services and resources to meet your child’s needs, including eligibility for Medicaid.
  • Provide a nurturing, responsive and healthy home. This can reduce the effects your child experiences from FAS.
  • For children with behavior or learning problems, encourage the school system to provide psychoeducational testing to look for central nervous system damage.

Find out more

The language of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (pdf)
 
Effects of alcohol on a fetus (pdf)
 
Adopting or fostering a child with FASD (pdf)
 
What the foster care system should know (pdf)
 
How FASDs co-occur with mental illness (pdf)
 
If your child faces the juvenile justice system (pdf)

General Information

Many women drink, and moderate drinking is thought to confer some benefits against heart disease for both women and men. However, women need to know that alcohol consumption poses numerous health risks, especially if they are drinking excessively or are pregnant.

If you see a patient who is planning to become pregnant, encourage her to abstain from alcohol. If she is sexually active, not using contraception and drinking, talk to her about alcohol-exposed pregnancies and encourage contraceptive use or abstinence from alcohol. In general, patients don't object to being screened for alcohol use and are open to advice post-screening. Women are more likely than men to obtain help and achieve remission.


Diagnosing FAS

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can be challenging to diagnose.

View the CDC guidelines for referral and diagnosis.


Free Outreach MaterialsImage of binge drinking outreach poster

We offer free fact cards and posters about the dangers of binge drinking.
 
View binge drinking fact card (pdf)
 
View samples of the posters (pdf)


Find out more

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General Information

    In 1981, the first Surgeon General’s statement was made advising pregnant women not to drink alcoholic beverages. Since then, other Surgeons General have made similar statements, including the most recent in 2005. Public policy at the federal level resulted in labeling alcoholic beverages with warning labels for pregnant women in 1988 under the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act.
     
    Policy makers should be aware of the impacts that children and adults with FAS have on the health care system. Because they may have additional disabilities, the costs can be high for healthcare.
     
    Policies regarding FAS include:
  • Addressing underage drinking and contraception;
  • Addressing binge drinking by women and high-risk sexual activity (sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol);
  • Screening pregnant women for alcohol and other drug use;
  • Providing sufficient alcohol and other drug treatment opportunities for pregnant women;
  • Ensuring children with FAS receive diagnostic services and resources;
  • Ensuring that the foster care and educational systems are trained to deal with children who have FAS; and
  • Addressing adults who have FAS in the criminal justice system.

Find out more

Cost of FASD in Oregon (pdf)
 
FASD by the numbers (pdf)
 
What policy makers should know (pdf)
 
What school systems should know about students with FAS (pdf)
 
What the substance abuse treatment system should know (pdf)
 
What the foster care system should know (pdf)
 
The language of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (pdf)
 
FASD and Juvenile Justice: How professionals can make a difference (pdf)
 
Overview of FAS (PowerPoint)
 
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Competency-based curriculum development guide (pdf)​​​​

General Information

Students in the school system with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can present a myriad of challenges for the classroom teacher. It is important for the teacher to be aware of the student’s diagnosis so that he or she can successfully work with the student.


Special Education Services

Students with FAS are eligible for special education services provided they have the diagnosis to support the need for services. These services should include:

  • Neuropsychological assessments
  • Early Intervention (age 0 to 3)
  • Special education services
  • Parent and caregiver education
  • Physical, speech and language, and occupational therapies
  • Social skills training

Classroom Interventions

There are many interventions teachers can use to help students gain the ability to be successful in school.
 
Students with FAS often tend to be caring and creative, determined and eager to please, and responsive to structure, close supervision and concrete information. Students with FAS may have trouble expressing themselves, so it can be very helpful for educators to be aware of the student’s body language - for example, knowing the warning signs for frustration, sadness, anger and other emotions. Students may also have problems with concepts such as decision making, time management, impulsiveness and distinguishing between private and public behaviors. They may have memory problems and be unable to remember information from one day to the next.
 
Below are some possible interventions that have been shown to help students with FAS achieve success in the classroom:

  • Place the child near the front of the room to help focus.
  • Allow short breaks when necessary.
  • Create borders such as armrests, footrests and beanbag chairs. This helps the child feel calmer and more secure.
  • Give enough time for the child to prepare to exit classroom at recess and the end of the day.
  • Have the child perform one task at a time.
  • As assignments become longer and more difficult, give deadlines for sections and check on progress.
  • Provide the child with a copy of the teacher’s notes.
  • Behavior problems are more apparent in grade school. Diffuse situations calmly, move into a new activity.
  • Children may be unable to generalize information learned from one day to the next. Make eye contact, repeat things, and always use short instructions.
  • Be prepared for inconsistent performance, frustration with transitions and the need for individual attention.
  • Use visuals, concrete examples and hands-on learning.
  • Encourage success; reward positive behavior with praise or incentives.
  • Middle school students should shift academic learning to daily living and vocational skills.

Find out more

What school systems should know about students with FAS (pdf) 
 
Overview of FAS (PowerPoint)​​


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