Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

What are fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who is prenatally exposed to alcohol. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. FASDs can impact individuals differently. Most individuals don’t show any physical signs of the disorder but have brain damage which is the most challenging aspect of this disability.

The term FASDs is not a clinical diagnosis, but diagnostic terms under the FASDs umbrella may include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)

Why is this a problem?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the leading cause of developmental disabilities in the U.S. In 2018, Dr. Philip May demonstrated through his research that one out of twenty first graders in the US are on the FASD spectrum. (MOFAS 2017 Conference)

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure can harm the way a child learns and behaves including:

  • hyperactive behavior
  • physical, mental, social and behavioral disabilities
  • difficulty paying attention
  • learning disabilities
  • memory problems
  • poor reasoning and judgement skills

Why FASD matters

  • 61% of adolescents with an FASD experienced significant school disruptions
  • 2-3x more likely to be bullied
  • 60% of individuals with an FASD have a history of trouble with the law
  • 94% of individuals with an FASD also have a mental illness
  • FASD costs $241,080 for the average person and $2.0 million for a person with an FASD (USDA 2012)
  • 5% of women in chemical dependency treatment are pregnant (SAMHSA 2009)

FASD and the Criminal Justice System

Individuals with FASD have been shown to have a higher rate of incarceration and arrest, with approximately half of all people with FASD facing legal trouble at some point. Furthermore, the prison population has much higher rates of FASD than the general population. Individuals with an FASD in jail may face more issues such as:

  • After incarceration or arrest, individuals with FASD may forget rules for probation.
  • They may struggle to understand the rules as the courts usually use advanced language or give directions that may be confusing to a person with FASD.
  • Most crimes committed by someone with FASD are related to the brain damage caused by alcohol.
  • Lying can occur when a person with FASD has poor memory and creates a story to fill in the gaps.
  • A person may steal when he has trouble understanding the concept of ownership, for if the real owner is not there, then the object has no owner.(NOFAS.org)

Diagnostic Resources in Pitt County

East Carolina University Department of Pediatrics

600 Moye Blvd | Greenville, NC 27834
Phone: 252-744-2525    Fax: 252-744-2895
Evelyn Rawcliffe-Kimbrell, DO
Margie Jaworski, MD


  • FASDinNC.org: NC Preventing Fetal Alcohol Exposure Program
  • NCFASDinformed.org: NCFASD Informed website provides information on where to get a diagnosis, areas with parent support groups and other resources for individuals and families affected by FASDs.
  • NOFAS.org: National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome provides information on timely issues regarding FASDs, resources to aid families and individuals and information on how to get involved in the FASD awareness month in September.
  • Proofalliance.org: An organization in MN that provides resources for people throughout the US including numerous fact sheets and information on their annual FASD conference.


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