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Jan 18, 2017

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term for the range of physical, developmental, and behavioral disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Physically, children may be underweight, suffer chronic illnesses, or have certain facial features that indicate FASD. But more damaging are the harmful, irreversible effects of alcohol on an infant’s developing brain.

Here’s why you, as a foster parent, need to know more about FASD:

  • The majority of children with FASD are not raised by their birthparents. [1]
  • Children in foster care are 10–15 times more likely to be affected by prenatal alcohol exposure than other children. [1]
  • FASD is common in the foster care system. Up to 80 percent of children with fetal alcohol syndrome are in foster care or adoptive placement. This is 10 times higher than in the general population. [2]
  • FASD often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed. More than 86 percent of foster care and adopted youth with an FASD were either not diagnosed or had been misdiagnosed, as the disorder is often mistaken for behavioral issues such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. [2]
  • Birth family history of alcohol and drug use can increase the chances of having a child with an FASD. As much as 75% of children in foster care have a family history of mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse. [2]
  • Parenting a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) can be challenging, overwhelming, and lonely. It can be even harder for foster parents if they do not understand and recognize the behaviors and symptoms associated with FASD. [2] 


The following facts were featured in a recent issue of LifeLines magazine: 

  1. There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol crosses the placenta and exposes the fetus to similar blood alcohol levels as the mother. The fetus is unable to metabolize the alcohol and damage can result to the brain and organs.
  2. The following complications are associated with FASD:
    • Delayed development
    • Hyperactivity
    • Learning disabilities
    • Difficult behaviors
  3. We often see impacts on social skills, which include:
    • A lack of stranger fear (lack of inhibition)
    • Vulnerability to being taken advantage of
    • Immaturity
    • Superficial interactions
    • Inappropriate choice of friends
    • Poor social cognition
  4. Identifying and treating FASDs can reduce the occurrence of secondary disabilities, such as:
    • Mental health problems
    • Disrupted school experiences
    • Trouble with the law
    • Confinement
    • Inappropriate sexual behavior
    • Alcohol/Drug problems.
  5. Parenting strategies include the following:
    • Accepting limitations
    • Providing consistency and structure
    • Establishing stable routines
    • Using concrete language
    • Using positive reinforcement rather than a rewards/ consequence system


The organization Families Affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder has provided a helpful chart with common behavioral symptoms of FASD and how parents can respond.

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