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What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

FASD is a diagnostic term for severe neurodevelopmental impairments (you may see these as difficulties with physical activities, language, memory, learning and behaviour) that result from brain damage caused by alcohol exposure before birth.

FASD ...

  • The effects may not be seen at birth
  • All people with FASD will have damage to different parts of the brain which can cause structural (eg. small head) and functional impairments which can be physical, cognitive and behavioural
  • Some people with FASD will have other birth defects such as heart and eye problems
  • Although the use of ‘fetal’ may imply that it only relates to babies, FASD has lifelong consequences and can be diagnosed in children, young people and adults
  • People with FASD will have strengths and difficulties
  • Some people with FASD will have distinctive facial features, but most do not
  • FASD occurs in all parts of Australian society where alcohol is consumed
  • FASD is a social issue not just a medical condition
  • No level of maternal alcohol consumption at any time during pregnancy can be guaranteed to be completely ‘safe’ or ‘no risk’ for the developing fetus
  • Some women are at higher risk of drinking and need support from partners, friends, family, health professionals and drug and alcohol workers to stop drinking alcohol when they are pregnant

It is important to get an early diagnosis so that early interventions and support can be provided.

With the right support and early interventions, good outcomes across a range of life goals are more likely to be achieved.

A circle of collaboration between health professionals, the family, school and service providers ensures the best opportunities for people with FASD.

Diagnostic terms for FASD

The current Australian Guide to the diagnosis of FASD refers to FASD as a diagnostic term with two diagnostic sub categories:

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

These are the terms used in Australia, Canada and New Zealand since 2016.

Throughout the website there will be links to information (publications, research & resources) and other websites that will use different or previously used diagnostic sub-categories. The table below shows how the Australian diagnostic sub-categories best relate to the other diagnostic sub-categories.

Current Australian diagnostic sub-categories Other sub-categories used internationally or preveiously used terms
FASD with three sentinel facial features Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
FASD with less than three sentinel facial features Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
Neurodevelopmental Disorder – Alcohol Exposed (ND-AE)
Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol Exposed (SE/AE)
Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
Neurodevelopmental Disorder Prenatal Alcohol Exposed (ND-PAE)
Neurobehavioural Disorder/Alcohol Exposed (ND/AE)
Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE)

The cover of the FASD Language Guide

Language Guide

The language we use has a powerful impact on the way people with FASD are perceived and are treated.

This guide is intended to suggest language that can be used in conversations, presentations and reports about FASD in Australia. The use of such language is intended to enhance respectful engagement with people with FASD and their families to reduce the negativity and stigma often associated with FASD.

Read the Language Guide

FASD videos


FASD in Australia

An insight into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Australia. Learn from the stories of parents & carers along with the health professionals helping those with FASD live fulfilling lives.

Living with FASD

What I wish the world knew about me

For International FASD Awareness Day on the 9th of September, we asked a group of adults and young people living with FASD (and their caregivers) - what do you wish the world knew about you?

Watch more

Professor Elizabeth Elliott

Story of alcohol use in pregnancy and FASD

NSW Health

FASD Community
FASD Professionals
FASD Youth

Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation

Barkley fights FASD

Telethon Kids Institute

What is FASD?

FASD The invisible disability