Seven Myths about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Debunked

This September is FASD Awareness Month – a month devoted to raising awareness to improve prevention, diagnosis and support for individuals.

What is FASD? FASD describes the range of effects that can occur in an individual exposed to alcohol before birth. These effects include a wide range of physical, intellectual and neurobehavioral deficits.

Current studies suggest that up to 4% of individuals in Canada have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. That’s nearly 1,500,000 people. So, while experts agree that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, it’s known that the rates of FASD are higher in vulnerable populations. Help raise awareness by debunking seven common myths about FASD.

Myth #1: It’s safe to have a regular glass of wine or other alcoholic beverages during pregnancy.

Fact: Experts agree that there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy, and it is safest not to consume any alcohol.Research has also shown that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can increase the risk of adverse neurobehavioural outcomes for the child. Damage to the brain is the most common effect of prenatal alcohol exposure and can occur at any point during the course of the pregnancy.

Myth #2: Drinking in moderation will not cause FASD.

Fact: There is insufficient scientific evidence to define any threshold for safe low-level drinking during pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant. It is recommended that no alcohol be consumed during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is safe for the developing brain.

Myth #3: Every person with FASD has a thin upper lip and small eyes.

Fact: FASD is most often an invisible disability, and only a small percentage of people diagnosed with FASD have the sentinel facial features associated with FASD. Typically, an FASD diagnostic clinic or medical team would determine if the features are present as part of their diagnostic assessment.

Myth #4: FASD is a childhood disorder that goes away as the person ages.

Fact: The difficulties that a person with FASD experiences can vary depending on their age and level of development, but the disabilities are lifelong and permanent. Each person with FASD will need special supports to help them succeed in daily life.

Myth #5: A person with FASD has a low IQ.

Fact: Each individual with FASD is unique, and no two people with FASD will have the same strengths or challenges. Some individuals with FASD have an average or high average overall IQ, and some have a low IQ. The nature of the disabilities of those affected depends on the parts of the brain or body that have been affected by alcohol.

Myth #6: Because there are no FASD specific treatment options and supports available, it is not helpful to give a child or adult a diagnosis of FASD.

Fact: As with any developmental disorder, early diagnosis is imperative to improve the lives of those affected by FASD. The sooner a child is diagnosed, the sooner supports at school, home, and in the community can be implemented, such as teaching strategies, educational accommodations, or occupational and behavioural therapy. We are learning more and more about how to support individuals with FASD by collaborating with professionals, families, and individuals living with the diagnosis.

Myth #7: Adults cannot get diagnosed with FASD.

Fact: Even though it may be difficult to access information about the mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy, research has shown that getting the diagnosis in adulthood can lead to a better understanding of oneself. Individuals diagnosed with FASD in adulthood have said: “I knew all my life that I was different, now I know why,” and “had I known my memory was affected, I wouldn’t have been so angry at myself all the time.”

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