Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Current issues in awareness, prevention and intervention

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Current issues in awareness, prevention and intervention

Sara McLean and Stewart McDougall

CFCA Paper No. 29 — December 2014
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Current issues in awareness, prevention and intervention

This paper reviews the research and current policy surrounding prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to a spectrum of adverse fetal outcomes. This spectrum of abnormalities is collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and may include physical, cognitive and/or developmental symptoms. The aim of this paper is to inform practitioners and other professionals working in a range of fields about the implications of FASD for children and their families. Current research on interventions or programs to work with families affected by FASD is also explored.

A practitioner resource: Supporting children living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: Practice principles has also been published.

The information in this paper was correct at the time of publication. 

In 2016, Australia adopted new guidelines for the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Please view the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD for details on these changes and up-to-date guidelines. 

This CFCA short article provides an overview for health professionals on the changes, see: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: A national diagnostic tool and a guide to its use.

Key messages

Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause a range of cognitive and physical abnormalities in embryos that can lead to impairments in a range of functions: sensory systems, language and communication, processing pace, learning and memory, abstract thinking, and executive functioning.

Misunderstanding and labelling of those with FASD can lead to a poor self-concept, disrupted peer relationships, fractured educational and placement experiences and contact with youth justice services.

The prevalence of FASD is likely to be underestimated by current measures. Certain populations, including children in out-of-home care and children in contact with youth justice services are thought to include an over-representation of individuals living with an undetected FASD.

Tackling FASD requires focused and coordinated multidisciplinary and cross sector approaches. More information about the prevalence and nature of FASD will allow for improved service planning and implementation.

Policy directions are needed that prioritise the screening and prevention of FASD in the community.

Current and future professionals, including those in traditionally adult-focused services, need awareness and knowledge about the significance of FASD and prenatal alcohol exposure on children's lives.

Leave a comment

A wonderful contribution to FASD nationally. Just a quick comment about the prevalence of FASD in Australia though. Phillip May in the United States has recently found that between 4% and 7% of children in the United States have a FASD. There is no reason for us to assume that Australia will be any different except that we drink more per capita than the United States. We can make an education assumption that our rates of FASD will be at least the same as this new research suggests. In fact the rffada suspects it will eventually be found to be around 10%.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Sara McLean is a Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Child Protection.

Stewart McDougall is part of the research team at the Australian Centre for Child Protection.

The authors wish to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Vicki Russell, Chief Executive Officer, National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Australia, and Rhys Price-Robertson, Senior Research Officer, Child Family Community Australia.

The feature image is Amelia's Sunset Swing, by Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY 2.0.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 29
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2014.
19 pp.
ISSN: 
2200-4106
ISBN: 
978-1-922038-77-7

Publication meta

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