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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. Diagnosis under FASD include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS) and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND).

Proper support and accommodations will help to prevent secondary disabilities* such as cognitive disorders, psychiatric illness and psychological dysfunction.

FASD is an invisible disability.  It lasts a lifetime, but it may change over time.  It cannot be cured, but can be prevented.  This disorder affects how information is processed in a person’s brain.  The disorder is a spectrum disorder because of the range of effects from mild to severe.


FASD may also look like a combination of:

•  Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD or ADHD) •  Hyperactivity
•  Attachment Disorder •  Learning Disabled
•  Autism or Pervasive Developmental Delay •  Oppositional Defiant Disorder
•  Conduct Disorder •  Sensory Integration Dysfunction


Diagnosis of this disorder will provide parents/caregivers and educators with direction and guidance for interventions.  Proper support and accommodations will help to prevent secondary disabilities* such as cognitive disorders, psychiatric illness and psychological dysfunction.  A diagnosis helps people involved with these children’s care and education to establish realistic expectations based on child’s strength and weaknesses.

To diagnose FASD, there must be a combination of prentatal exposure confirmation, CNS impairment, 2-3 hallmark facial features and prenatal and/or postnatal growth deficiency.

  • 3 facial characteristics (short palpebral fissures, indistinct philtrum, thin upper lip)
  • 3 neurobehavioural domains below 2nd standard deviation.

No two people with FASD are alike.


* Secondary disabilities that may occur with undiagnosed FASD are:

• mental health problems (90%) • involvement with the legal system (60%)
• dependent living arrangements (80%) • school difficulties (60%)
• employment difficulties (80%) • substance abuse (30%)


Waterloo and Wellington Regions each have FASD diagnostic clinics where local children are assessed for FASD and ARND (Alcohol -Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder).  For the Wellington clinic, contact CMHA Waterloo Wellington Dufferin at or at 519-576-2333.

For Waterloo Region, children can only be referred for a FASD assessment through their involvement with a participating agency or practitioner.  These include: kidsLINK, Lutherwood, Grand River Hospital, KidsAbility, Dr. Malholtra, Dr. Louise Scott, and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

Links or Useful Resources for FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDER:
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse –
KidsAbility Centre For Child Development – search under “diagnosis”
London: Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario, Genetics Dept. 1 – 519-685-8140
Mayo Clinic –
Toronto: The Hospital for Sick Children, Motherisk Program – or 416-813-7500
Waterloo Region FAS Support Group – 519-883-2223
Waterloo Region FASD Caregivers Empowerment Alliance – 519-578-3919
Trellis Mental Health & Developmental Services – 519-576-2333
Diane Malbin –
Let’s Talk FASD –
FASD Justice –
Provincial Outreach Program – B.C. Ministry of Education –
FASD Waterloo Region –