What is FASD?
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What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

The medical diagnoses of FASD include:

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder- with sentinal facial features

Fetal Alchol Spectrum Disorder- without sential facial features

These diagnoses need to be made through a multidisciplinary assessment. The Waterloo Region FASD Diagnostic Team uses Canadian Guideline for Diagnosis (Cook JL, Green CR, Lilley CM,et al (2015) and emerging best practices.

Each assessment includes a psychological assessment, speech and language assessment, occupational therapy assessment and a physical examination by a pediatrician.

For More information about Diagnosis click here.

How Does Alcohol Harm the Fetus?

Alcohol is a teratogen, meaning that this substance is toxic to, and can negatively influence, prenatal development. When a woman is pregnant and drinks alcohol, the alcohol not only enters her system, but also passes freely through the placenta and enters the system of the developing fetus. Alcohol remains in the system of the fetus longer than that of the mother. The alcohol injures the body systems and organs that are developing at that stage of the pregnancy. Even though different parts of the body develop at different times during pregnancy it is important to note that the brain is developing the entire time and at every stage of pregnancy.

The Economic Cost of FASD

If individuals with FASD are not supported and needs are not met, it is likely that secondary disabilities will arise. The economic costs associated with provision of emergency healthcare, justice services, addiction treatment, unemployment supports and homelessness are vast. Through prevention of further cases of FASD these costs can be lowered.

A study conducted by Canadian researchers in 2009 estimated that the annual costs associated with FASD at the individual level were $21,642. These direct costs included medical, education, social services, out-of-pocket costs; and indirect costs included productivity losses. Severity of the individual's condition, age, and relationship of the individual to the caregiver (biological, adoptive, foster) were significant determinants of costs. The cost of FASD annually to Canada of those from day of birth to 53 years old was $5.3 billion (Stade, B. et al. 2009).


Cook JL, Green CR, Lilley CM, et al.; (2015) Canadian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: a guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan. CAMJ

Chudley, A. E., Conry, J., Cook, J. L., Loock, C., Rosales, T., & LeBlanc, N. (2005). Fetal

Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Canadian guidelines for diagnosis. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 172(5), S1-S21. Available at www.cmaj.ca/content/172/5_suppl/S1.full?sid=14379e9a-1c1e-48b8-a579-3d84fa5fe037

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2006). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD):

A framework for action. Available at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/fasd-fw-etcaf-ca/index-eng.php

Stade, B., Ali, A., Bennett, D., Campbell, D., Johnston, M., Lens, C., Tran, S., & Koren, G.

(2009). The burden of prenatal exposure to alcohol: Revised measurement of cost. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 16, e91-e102.

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