Seven Myths about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Debunked

This September is FASD Awareness Month – a month devoted to raising awareness to improve prevention, diagnosis and support for individuals. 

What is FASD? FASD describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual exposed to alcohol before birth. These effects include a wide range of physical, intellectual and neurobehavioral deficits.   

Current studies suggest that up to 4% of individuals in Canada have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. That’s nearly 1,500,000 people. So, while experts agree that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, it’s known that the rates of FASD are higher in vulnerable populations. Help raise awareness by debunking seven common myths about FASD. 

Myth #1: It’s safe to have a regular glass of wine or other alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. 

Fact: Experts agree that there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy, and it is safest not to consume any alcohol. Research has also shown that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can increase the risk of adverse neurobehavioural outcomes for the child. Damage to the brain is the most common effect of prenatal alcohol exposure and can occur at any point during the course of the pregnancy. 

Myth #2: Drinking in moderation will not cause FASD. 

Fact: There is insufficient scientific evidence to define any threshold for safe low-level drinking during pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant. It is recommended that no alcohol be consumed during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is safe for the developing brain. 

Myth #3: Every person with FASD has a thin upper lip and small eyes. 

Fact: FASD is most often an invisible disability, and only a small percentage of people diagnosed with FASD have the sentinel facial features associated with FASD. Typically, an FASD diagnostic clinic or medical team would determine if the features are present as part of their diagnostic assessment. 

Myth #4: FASD is a childhood disorder that goes away as the person ages. 

Fact: The difficulties that a person with FASD experiences can vary depending on their age and level of development, but the disabilities are lifelong and permanent. Each person with FASD will need special supports to help them succeed in daily life. 

Myth #5: A person with FASD has a low IQ. 

Fact: Each individual with FASD is unique, and no two people with FASD will have the same strengths or challenges. Some individuals with FASD have an average or high average overall IQ, and some have a low IQ. The nature of the disabilities of those affected depends on the parts of the brain that have been affected by alcohol. 

Myth #6: Because there are no FASD specific treatment options and supports available, it is not helpful to give a child or adult a diagnosis of FASD. 

Fact: As with any developmental disorder, early diagnosis is imperative to improve the lives of those affected by FASD. The sooner a child is diagnosed, the sooner supports at school, home, and in the community can be implemented, such as teaching strategies, educational accommodations, or occupational and behavioural therapy. We are learning more and more about how to support individuals with FASD by collaborating with professionals, families, and individuals living with the diagnosis. 

Myth #7: Adults cannot get diagnosed with FASD. 

Fact: Even though it may be difficult to access information about the mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy, research has shown that getting the diagnosis in adulthood can lead to a better understanding of oneself. Individuals diagnosed with FASD in adulthood have said: “I knew all my life that I was different, now I know why,” and “had I known my memory was affected, I wouldn’t have been so angry at myself all the time.” 

At Surrey Place, we provide diagnostic services for all ages, and coordination services for children and youth. Learn more about our diagnostic services here

By 2 months

Has your baby had their hearing screened? YES NO

By 6 months

Does the child?

Startle in response to loud noises? YES NO
Turn to where a sound is coming from? YES NO
Make different cries for different needs (hungry, tired)? YES NO
Watch your face as you talk? YES NO
Smile/laugh in response to your smiles and laughs? YES NO
Imitate coughs or other sounds such as ah, eh, buh YES NO

By 9 months

Does the child?

Respond to their name? YES NO
Respond to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door? YES NO
Understand being told no? YES NO
Get what they want through using gestures (reaching to be picked up)? YES NO
Play social games with you (Peek-a-Boo)? YES NO
Enjoy being around people? YES NO
Babble and repeat sounds such as babababa or duhduhduh? YES NO

By 12 months

Does the child?

Follow simple one-step directions (sit down)? YES NO
Look across the room to a toy when adult points at it? YES NO
Consistently use three to five words? YES NO
Use gestures to communicate (waves hi/bye, shakes head for no)? YES NO
Get your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes? YES NO
Bring you toys to show you? YES NO
Perform for social attention and praise? YES NO
Combine lots of sounds together as though talking (abada baduh abee)? YES NO
Show an interest in simple picture books? YES NO

By 18 months

Does the child?

Understand the meaning of in and out, off and on? YES NO
Point to more than 2 body parts when asked? YES NO
Use at least 20 words consistently? YES NO
Respond with words or gestures to simple questions (Where's teddy? What's that?)? YES NO
Demonstrate some pretend play with toys (gives teddy bear a drink, pretends a bowl is a hat)? YES NO
Make at least four different consonant sounds (p ,b, m, n, d, g, w, h)? YES NO
Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you? YES NO
Point to pictures using one finger? YES NO

By 2 years

Does the child?

Follow two-step directions (Go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma.)? YES NO
Use 100 to 150 words? YES NO
Use at least two pronouns (you, me, mine)? YES NO
Consistently combine two to four words in short phrases (Daddy hat. Truck go down.)? YES NO
Enjoy being around other children? YES NO
Begin to offer toys to other children and imitate other children's actions and words? YES NO
Use words that are understood by others 50 to 60 per cent of the time? YES NO
Form words or sounds easily and without effort? YES NO
Hold books the right way up and turn the pages? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 30 months

Does the child?

Understand the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little/a lot, more)? YES NO
Use some adult grammar (two cookies, bird flying, I jumped)? YES NO
Use over 350 words? YES NO
Use action words such as run, spill, fall? YES NO
Participate in some turn-taking activities with peers, using both words and toys? YES NO
Demonstrate concern when another child is hurt or sad? YES NO
Combine several actions in play (puts blocks in the train and drives the train, drops the blocks off.)? YES NO
Put sounds at the beginning of most words? YES NO
Use words with two or more syllables or beats (ba-na-na, com-pu-ter, a-pple)? YES NO
Recognize familiar logos and signs involving print (Stop sign)? YES NO
Remember and understand familiar stories? YES NO

By 3 years

Does the child?

Understand who, what, where and why questions? YES NO
Create long sentences using five to eight words? YES NO
Talk about past events (trip to grandparents house, day at child care)? YES NO
Tell simple stories? YES NO
Show affection for favourite playmates? YES NO
Engage in multi-step pretend play (pretending to cook a meal, repair a car)? YES NO
Talk in a way that most people outside of the family understand what she/he is saying most of the time? YES NO
Have an understanding of the function of print (menus, lists, signs)? YES NO
Show interest in, and awareness of, rhyming words? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 4 years

Does the child?

Follow directions involving three or more steps (First get some paper, then draw a picture and give it to Mommy)? YES NO
Use adult type grammar? YES NO
Tell stories with a beginning, middle and end? YES NO
Talk to try and solve problems with adults and with other children? YES NO
Show increasingly complex imaginary play? YES NO
Talk in a way that is understood by strangers almost all the time? YES NO
Generate simple rhymes (cat-bat)? YES NO
Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says buh, letter t says tuh)? YES NO