Supporting Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

Children who have been exposed to alcohol before birth can present with a wide spectrum of abilities and needs. Conditions related to this developmental experience are formally known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) and represent this spectrum. In addition to these FASD diagnoses, there are common “comorbidities”. This means that other challenges may occur because of FASD or alongside it. Additionally, whether you are a birth parent, adoptive parent, caregiver, or foster parent of a child with FASD, it is important to consider your impact in their development.

What are typical needs for children with FASD?

According to recent studies, individuals with FASDs can be comorbid with ADHD, sensory sensitivities, language disorders, behavior disorders, developmental delays as young children, or intellectual disabilities as adults (2016, 2017). Similar to autism, children with FASDs have unique needs and need a different collection of services to achieve success. Some broad support categories for children with FASD include medical support through pediatricians, special education services at school, psychological services for accurate comorbid diagnoses, social work or psychological services for emotional/behavioral needs, occupational therapy (OT) support for sensory needs, and speech therapy support for challenges with expressive/receptive language.

What can I do as a parent for my child with FASD?

A lot of pediatric research discusses something called nature vs. nurture. While it is no longer a debate of which is more important anymore, it does draw attention to the influences both areas have on children.

Nature typically refers to genetics, so in the world of FASD it is often shared that expecting individuals should receive extra support to avoid alcohol consumption if they are genetically predisposed to alcoholism.

On the nurture side, which refers more to the environment, we start by looking at outside influences on a fetus. The pregnant parent should stop drinking while pregnant, even if they drank previously during the pregnancy, to avoid injuring the fetus. Influences of prenatal vitamins and appropriate care during their pregnancy can also make a positive impact.

Beyond birth, supports include healthy parenting strategies, outside therapeutic support, and physical environment. For infants, providing mental stimulation with toys and physical interaction is beneficial to development. As children get older, holding clear expectations and routines will support the child as well. Families can get connected with clinicians including pediatricians, therapists, and psychologists who understand your child’s specific needs with FASD.

Our last note on nurture refers to self-care, It’s also important to remember to take time away from your parenting role to decompress. Lean into your network of family supports and contact respite care providers to work with your child so you can take time away from the caregiving responsibilities.

Resources and Next Steps

As a caregiver or parent for a child with FASD, you are not alone. Connect with resources online to support your child and your family as you navigate challenges due to your child’s diagnosis. There are many online support groups to connect with other families who experience FASD.

If your child does not have a formal diagnosis of a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, but you and your pediatrician suspect it may be a factor influencing their development, talk to them about a formal medical evaluation. If they are diagnosed younger than age 3 and are showing developmental delays, your family may be referred to the Early Intervention system for services.

If your child has an FASD diagnosis and you are suspecting comorbidities of ADHD or other disorders, you can connect with a pediatric psychologist for an in-depth evaluation. If you are in the Chicagoland area, consider connecting with psychologists through The Goldman Center for this evaluation.