Skip to content

For health professionals

Detailed information on referral, screening, assessment and formulating a diagnosis can be found in the Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD. The Guide was produced to assist clinicians in the diagnosis, referral and management of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It contains the Australian FASD Diagnostic Instrument and information about how to use the instrument. It provides clinicians with diagnostic criteria for FASD, which were agreed following a review of existing guidelines and consultation with clinical experts. These are similar to criteria in the Canadian guideline for diagnosis of  fetal alcohol spectrum disorders across the lifespan (Cook et al 2016) and use clinical aids developed at the University of Washington to assess facial dysmorphology Diagnostic Guide for FASD The 4-Digit Diagnostic Code (Astley 2004).

Diagnostic categories and criteria for FASD

A diagnosis of FASD requires evidence of prenatal alcohol exposure and severe impairments in three or more domains of central nervous system structure or function.

FASD is a diagnostic term with two diagnositc sub-categories:

  • FASD with three sentinel facial features
  • FASD with less than 3 sentinel facial features

Read more in the diagnosis criteria and the diagnostic algorithm for FASD which are included in the Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD.

Screening and referral guidelines

Appendix A9 Referral and screening guidelines for FASD in the Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD includes:

  1. Referral guidelines
  2. Screening tools for FASD
  3. Primary developmental surveillance

Diagnostic assessment

To assess an individual with prenatal alcohol exposure and/or suspected FASD, the following essential criteria must be considered:

Alternative diagnoses that might explain neurodevelopmental impairment must be excluded, including genetic diagnoses, exposure to other teratogens and both physical and psychosocial postnatal exposures such as early life trauma. FASD may, however, coexist with other conditions.

Ideally, the diagnostic assessment for FASD is conducted by a multidisciplinary team to enable accurate assessment of the range of outcomes that may be associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Health professionals participating in a diagnostic assessment for a young person may include:

  • Paediatrician
  • Psychologist
  • Speech pathologist
  • Occupational therapist

For an adult, the health professionals involved in the diagnostic process are most likely to include one or two of the following:

  • Psychiatrist or physician
  • Neuro or clinical psychologist
  • Mental health worker

Accompanying the Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD are e-learning modules designed to assist clinicians with:

  • an introduction to FASD, including characteristics and manifestations
  • an understanding of the risks and effects of alcohol use in pregnancy and how to assess alcohol use in pregnancy
  • information needed to conduct a diagnostic assessment using the diagnostic criteria
  • general principles for discussing diagnosis, developing a management plan and supporting families and individuals after a FASD diagnosis
  • an understanding of referral and screening criteria for FASD

To register for the e-learning modules. 

Diagnosing FASD

Join health professionals from around Australia who assess and diagnose Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) using the 'Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD'.

A Doctor's Story

Gold Coast paediatrician Dr Doug Shelton shares his journey moving from ignorance to knowledge about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Dr Shelton now heads up one the leading FASD assessment clinics in Australia.

Watch some videos

Professor Elizabeth Elliott

Story of alcohol use in pregnancy and FASD

This video discusses understanding FASD, diagnosis and management

Queensland Family and Child Commission

Important message about FASD for health professionals

Information and resources related to diagnosing FASD

Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD

Modules to accompany the Guide

FASD E-learning modules for health professionals

Mental Health Commission WA

Introduction to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders e-learning package

Australian and New Zealand FASD Clinical Network

Want to talk to other health professionals

Churchill Fellowship Report - Dr Doug Shelton

To understand how to build a comprehensive assessment & intervention service for children

Page last updated 15 September 2017