FASD - Facts and services


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine

The basics on FASD and some of the provincial services available to families for their kids with FASD

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is used to describe the problems resulting from alcohol use during pregnancy.

These problems can include brain damage, vision and hearing problems, slow growth, and birth defects such as heart problems or bones that are not properly formed. Brain damage associated with FASD can involve lifelong problems with attention, memory, reasoning, and judgment. People with FASD are also at high risk of secondary disabilities such as mental health concerns, disrupted schooling, and addictions. Health Canada estimates the rate of FASD as 9 per 1000 live births. FASD may occur in any family or community, regardless of social, economic or ethnic status.

No cure for FASD

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and related conditions are typically diagnosed after behavioural or learning problems are seen. Differences in physical appearance are not noted in most children diagnosed with FASD. Children who are diagnosed before six years of age tend to do best, as tailored support services can be provided with early diagnosis.

FASD cannot be “cured.” An individual with FASD will process information differently, have difficulty understanding abstract concepts and consequences, and may have delayed social maturity. By understanding the person’s strengths, FASD and how the brain functions, it is possible to structure the environment to accommodate the individual. Recognizing the problem early, even if the alcohol effects are mild, gives a child the best opportunity to reach his or her potential. Two services are available across BC to assist families of children and youth with FASD and similar conditions.

  • Key workers can help families to understand FASD by providing education specific to the needs of the child, and connecting families to parent support services in the community.
  • Parent support includes mentoring, support groups, and FASD training for parents and grandparents.
  • Some communities have additional support groups solely for birth mothers of children with FASD because birth mothers and their children may have health and social support needs.

FASD risk and international adoption

It is difficult to find reliable statistics on drinking rates in other countries, but all parents who adopt internationally need to consider the possibility that a child they bring home might have FASD. There are some countries—such as Russia—where it has been suggested that as many as 50% of children in orphanages may have FASD. Even in countries where drinking rates amongst pregnant women are traditionally low—such as South Korea—it has been reported that drinking rates are increasing. The best advice is to learn about FASD, think carefully about whether you feel you have the resources to parent such a child, and talk to parents who are doing so. Before considering a proposal for a child, have a pre-adoption medical assessment done. If the assessment is done in the child’s country, have it checked over by a local expert on international adoption.