Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
While every individual with FASD has a unique set of
strengths and weaknesses, an individual with any diagnosis within the FASD
spectrum has some brain dysfunction as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure.
The signs and symptoms of FASD are most commonly
broken down into primary and secondary disabilities. However, remembering that not all individuals are alike, it must be noted that
not all primary and secondary disabilities listed below will apply to all
individuals, rather the lists are reflective of the disabilities commonly
observed among this unique population.
The primary disabilities of FASD are those
that most directly reflect the underlying central nervous system damage caused
by prenatal exposure to alcohol. This damage manifests in a range
of difficulties with adaptive behaviour, attention, cognition, executive
functioning, and memory. As a result, individuals with FASD may have trouble
with abstract reasoning, organization, planning, understanding or recalling a
sequence of events, connecting cause and effect relationships, and/or
regulating their own behaviours and emotions.
Typical brain-based, primary disabilities of FASD include:
- Inconsistent memory and recall
- Inability to filter out environmental or emotional distractions and sensory stimuli
- Slow and inconsistent cognitive and auditory processing
- Decreased mental stamina
- Difficulty interpreting, and applying abstract concepts (for example, managing money and time)
- Impulsivity and poor judgment
- Inability to predict outcomes (of their own or others' actions)
- Difficulty shifting from one context to another
- Resistant to change
- Inability to see another person's perspective
- Inability to recognize indirect social cues
Another common characteristic of individuals diagnosed with FASD is dysmaturity. Dysmaturity is a term used to refer to widely varying levels of maturity in different areas of development, such as expressive language and language comprehension, social and self care skills, and awareness and regulation of emotions. Individuals with FASD do not have the ability to meet many of society’s age based social and academic expectations. Given that FASD is not usually outwardly visible, the effects of their dysmaturity can be confusing and frustrating to themselves and to those around them.
Alcohol is toxic and can affect any organ or system of the fetus. Individuals with FASD can also have permanent vision and hearing problems; poorly developed bones, limbs and fingers; and damage to the heart, kidney, liver and other organs.
Secondary disabilities are those not present at birth, but occur later in life as a result of the primary disabilities associated with FASD. They include:
- Mental health problems
- Disrupted school experience (suspension, expulsion, and/or drop-out)
- Involvement with the law (trouble with authorities, charged and/or convicted of a crime)
- Confinement (inpatient treatment for mental health and/or alcohol/drug problems, or incarceration for crime)
- Alcohol and/or drug problems
- Poor academic achievement and school failure
- Sexually deviant behaviour
- Problems with employment
- Dependent living
When combined with individuals’ primary disabilities, these secondary disabilities increase the complexity of care and result in significant social and economic costs to society.