The use of alcohol during pregnancy can have many adverse consequences, one of which is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
The term FASD refers to a spectrum of disorders ranging from fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at the most severe end of the spectrum to partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). The incidence of FASD in North America is frequently estimated at 1% of newborns. Much higher figures, approximately 2% to 6%, have been reported in Italy (May et al, 2011); and a study from South Africa (May et al, 2007) reported that approximately 6% to 8% of newborns in that country are affected by the most severe forms of FASD, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS).
Most individuals diagnosed with FASD do not present the recognizable facial abnormalities typically seen in FAS
Most individuals diagnosed with FASD do not present the recognizable facial abnormalities typically seen in FAS (Riley et al, 2011). For this reason, FASD is often labeled ‘a hidden disability.’ Those affected by the disorder may exhibit no abnormal physical characteristics and yet suffer serious cognitive impairments that lead to learning and behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, poor judgment, aggressiveness, visual and hearing problems, and speech and other language difficulties (Stade et al, 2011).
There is no cure for FASD, and those affected face lifelong difficulties arising from both the primary and secondary disabilities associated with the disorder.
Secondary disabilities are deficits that result from the interaction between primary disabilities and social conditions. For example, a cohort study examining adolescents and adults who had been diagnosed with FASD found that 79% reported problems with employment; 61% had experienced a disrupted school experience; 60% had been in trouble with the law; 50% had been confined to a detention center, jail, prison, or an in-patient psychiatric or alcohol/drug treatment center; 49% repeatedly demonstrated inappropriate sexual behavior; and 35% reported alcohol and drug problems (Streissguth et al, 2004).