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September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Month

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

The first FASD Day was celebrated on 9/9/99, and now the entire month of September is used to promote awareness. Originally, the day was chosen to highlight the importance of not consuming alcohol during the nine months of pregnancy. Now, it is important to empower and promote dignity among individuals with FASD and their families as a way to combat the stereotypes and stigma people with FASD and women who drink alcohol during pregnancy face.

What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability. Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential. Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.”

FASD is a lifelong disability, but with effective support, individuals with FASD can succeed.

Approximately there are 1,451,600 people with FASD in Canada today. It impacts more Canadians than ASD, Cerebral Palsy, and Down Syndrome combined.

Can you see FASD?

No, FASD is often referred to as an invisible disability. FASD may or may not include the presence of the stereotypical facial features or growth abnormalities that can result from prenatal alcohol exposure. While there are individuals who present with visible facial differences (less than 10 percent), it is rare and typically has no impact on individuals’ daily functioning.

Mental Health and FASD

Without the right supports in place, people with FASD experience significantly high rates of mental health and substance use concerns. 90 percent of individuals with FASD experience mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Conduct Disorder, substance use disorders, and risk of suicide are most common.

Strengths, Signs, and Symptoms

The challenges individuals with FASD face are diverse and can differ depending on where they are in their life. FASD can be difficult to diagnose due to the signs and symptoms of FASD overlapping with several different developmental disorders. FASD can present quite differently in terms of symptoms and severity from person to person.

Despite the complex challenges, people with FASD embody the resilience, strengths, abilities, to offer unique and valuable contributions to society.


  • Likable

  • Forgiving

  • Non-judgmental

  • Caring

  • Affectionate

  • Determined

  • Friendly


  • Understanding of consequences

  • Focused attention

  • Impulse control

  • Understanding abstract concepts like time and money

  • Memory, Language, Motor skills

  • Sleep problems

  • Behavioural issues (examples: lying, theft, aggression)

  • Making and maintaining healthy relationships with peers

  • Problem-solving

  • Emotional regulation

  • Their strengths can be easily taken advantage of and/or mask the cognitive symptoms of FASD

The signs and symptoms of prenatal alcohol exposure may not be apparent until the school-age years or during adolescence since these are times when individuals impacted by FASD can have significant difficulty meeting societal expectations.

Alcohol and Pregnancy

There is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy. It is safest not to drink during pregnancy. FASD prevention is a complex issue and to avoid oversimplifying it, it is important to consider the various barriers there are to healthy pregnancies. Such as trauma, abuse, being unaware of the pregnancy, and lack of education related to the impact alcohol has on prenatal development.


How to Explain an FASD Diagnosis to your Child - Strategies and tips on how to explain the diagnosis of FASD to your child in a way that they can understand, and feel empowered by their disorder. is an interactive website that provides information across the spectrum and lifespan of individuals who have FASD. It discusses common neurobehavioral features and includes an interactive ages and stages feature that provides information on many of the life challenges individuals may face in areas such as health, education, life skills, housing, social relationships, employment, and mental health. The website was developed by CanFASD with the University of Alberta and Dr. Jacqueline Pei’s research team.

I Am a Caregiver! — Caregiver Resource GuideThis guide was developed as a way for caregivers to access important information and resources relating to providing care for children and adults with FASD.

Blog content information from

McAtee Psychology is a private psychology practice offering counselling, assessment, and therapeutic services to children & teens, couples, and families. Our team of psychologists, counsellors, and psychology students help you and your family create a more rich, connected, and meaningful life.

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