Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal Alcohol SpectrumLife with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) can be especially challenging. Children and adults who were prenatally exposed to alcohol can experience a range of issues throughout their lives and unfortunately those who are living with FASD are at higher risk for victimization and encountering the judicial system.
People with FASD may not understand the consequences of their behavior and actions. As a result, people who suffer from FASD may find themselves in trouble more often and in the midst of the criminal system. Fetal alcohol exposed children may end up in the family court system either in the dependency or the juvenile justice system. This poses a special challenge because it may impact the courts’ decision on how to handle these kinds of cases. The types of services offered to those with FASD may need to be different than the typical services offered. The juvenile and family court system has an important role to play in this hidden epidemic.

Recently, in collaboration with the National Insistitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice; the NCJFCJ released a new technical assistance publication, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Implications for Juvenile and Family Court Judges. To download a copy, click here.
Facts About FASD
  • FASD is the umbrella term for a group of conditions for anyone whose mother drank while pregnant. The effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can last a lifetime and include physical, behavioral, and learning problems (CDC, 2010). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the more severe condition as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure.
  • Not all children exposed prenatally to alcohol exhibit the same characteristics due the fact that exposure factors (amount, duration, and frequency) vary from case to case.
  • Population-based prevalence/incidence rates are unknown because individuals with FASD often are not diagnosed or incorrectly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and/or Emotionally Disturbed.
  • Population-based estimates of FASD vary widely. U.S. FASD rates are estimated between 2—5 percent of school children and prevalence of FAS could be as high 2—7 per 1,000 populations (May et al., 2009).
  • FASD can cause behavioral, physical, and mental disabilities.
  • Behavior issues can include: poor judgment, impulsivity, learning problems, difficulties understanding consequences and paying attention, and hyperactivity.
  • Physical features can include: abnormal facial features, small head, shorter-than-average height, low body weight, poor coordination, vision or hearing problems, and problems with heart, kidney, or bones.
  • Mental disabilities can include: low IQ, intellectual disabilities, poor memory, difficulties with math, and speech and language delays.

Love. Hope. Joy. - 2014 Public Awareness Campaign

The Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS) is spreading love, hope and joy to moms everywhere in Minnesota by using these three positive, uplifting and empowering words in a new advertising campaign to talk about the serious issue of FASD.

Additional Resources:


Burd, L., Cohen, C., Shah, R., & Norris, J. (2011). A court team model for young children in foster care: The role of prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 39(1), 179-191,1-2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/912376013?accountid=452

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) Homepage. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html

Lupton, C., Burd, L., Harwood, R. (2004). Cost of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 127C, 42-50.

Malbin, D.V. (2004). FASD and the Role of Family Court Judges. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 55(2), 53-63.

May, P.A., Gossage, J.P., Kalberg, W.O., Robinson, L.K., Buckley, D., Manning, M., & Hoyme, H.E. (2009). Prevalence and Epidemiologic Characteristics of FASD from Various Research Methods with an Emphasis on Recent In-School Studies. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 15(3), 176-192. doi:10.1002/ddrr.68

Olson, H.C. (2012). Families Moving Forward website. The FASD Treatment Continuum. Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/fmffasd/node/119

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Center for Excellence Homepage. Retrieved from http://www.fasdcenter.samhsa.gov/