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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

FASD is an umbrella term for describing a number of diagnoses. It is a spectrum of behavioural, emotional, physical and neurological impacts results from prenatal alcohol exposure.

This occurs because alcohol in the mother's blood passes to her baby through the placenta.

The baby cannot process alcohol as well as the mother can, which means it can damage cells in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of their body, and disrupt their development in the womb.

This can result in the loss of the pregnancy. Babies that survive may be left with lifelong problems.


Symptoms include:

  • a head that's smaller than average
  • poor growth – they may be smaller than average at birth, grow slowly as they get older, and be shorter than average as an adult
  • distinctive facial features – such as small eyes, a thin upper lip, and a smooth area between the nose and upper lip, though these may become less noticeable with age
  • movement and balance problems
  • learning difficulties – such as problems with thinking, speech, social skills, timekeeping, maths or memory and recall.
  • issues with attention, concentration or hyperactivity
  • problems with the liver, kidneys, heart or other organs
  • hearing and vision problems
  • Impulse control
  • Risk taking behaviour.

These problems are permanent, though early treatment and support can help limit their impact on an affected child's life.


Speak to a GP or health visitor if you have any concerns about your child's development or think they could have foetal alcohol syndrome.

If the condition is not diagnosed early on and a child does not receive appropriate support, they're more likely to experience challenges associated with the condition.

For example, they may have difficulties with learning, misuse drugs or alcohol, develop mental health problems, and find it difficult to get a job and live independently as an adult.

A doctor or health visitor will need to know if your child was exposed to alcohol during pregnancy to make a diagnosis of foetal alcohol syndrome.

Your child may be referred to a specialist team for an assessment if there's a possibility they have the condition.

This usually involves a physical examination and blood tests to rule out genetic conditions that have similar symptoms to foetal alcohol.

There is no particular treatment for foetal alcohol syndrome, and the damage to the child's brain and organs cannot be reversed. But an early diagnosis and support can make a big difference.

Once the condition has been diagnosed, a team of healthcare professionals can assess the needs of the affected person and offer appropriate educational and behavioural strategies to meet these needs.

You may also find it helpful to contact a support group for people with foetal alcohol syndrome. These can be a good source of advice, and they may be able to connect you with other people in a similar situation.

There is a UK support group called NOFAS-UK (opens new page). You might also want to ask your care team if they know of any local groups in your area.

Children with FASD will need support for the challenges of daily life. The role of the parent/carer is to adapt the environment and parenting techniques to accommodate the child's needs.

  • Have appropriate expectations for a child with FASD as they often function at half their age. 
  • Think creatively as standard behavioural modification techniques are unlikely to work.
  • Consider surroundings when unwanted behaviour is displayed as it is usually from sensory and environmental surroundings.
  • Create a cal, uncluttered living environment.
  • Increase levels of supervision.
  • Be consistent, calm and supportive.
  • Break down large tasks into smaller steps.
  • Introduce new information at a slower rate.
  • provide visual prompts and countdowns for daily schedules.

The typical FASD profile for 18years old.




Last updated: 25/11/2021

Useful links

FASD Network UK

FASD Network Charity