Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) describes a range of disabilities which result from prenatal exposure to alcohol. The medical diagnoses under the umbrella of FASD include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial FAS (pFAS)
  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

Diagnosis of FASD in adults is often difficult and requires a thorough examination involving a team of trained multidisciplinary professionals. 

FASD is the leading known cause of preventable developmental disability among Canadians, although many people with FASD can have an IQ within the normal range. It is estimated that FASD affects approximately one per cent of the Canadian population. Footnote 1

What are the impacts of FASD?

FASD is a brain-based, and often considered an invisible disability. FASD can have a profound impact on individuals living with FASD, their families, their communities and society as a whole. The effects associated with FASD vary depending on the individual and may include physical, mental, behavioural and/or learning disabilities.

The effects of pre-natal alcohol exposure last a lifetime and there is no cure. However, with the proper approaches, interventions and support, the impacts of FASD can be lessened.

FASD and the correctional system

A 1996 study of 473 individuals diagnosed with a FASD found that 60 per cent of the participants over the age of 12 had experienced trouble with the law Footnote 2. Although the rate of FASD in correctional populations is currently unknown, it is estimated to be higher than the general population.

A recent study, conducted by CSC, which looked at a male federal correctional institution in the Prairie Region, found that 10 per cent of participants were diagnosed with a FASD. In addition, this study found another 15 per cent of participants met some of the diagnostic criteria for a FASD, but were missing information critical to making or ruling out a diagnosis Footnote 3.

The behavioural and learning characteristics associated with FASD can create challenges within correctional settings. However, successful reintegration into the community is possible for offenders with FASD through the use of appropriate accommodation, structure and support.

June 2012


Footnote 1

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2005). FASD Booklet. Ottawa, ON: PHAC. Publication 4200

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Footnote 2

Streissguth, A.P., Barr, H.M., Kogan, J., Bookstein, F.L. (1996).  Understanding the occurrence of secondary disabilities in clients with FAE. Seattle, WA: University of Washington

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Footnote 3

MacPherson, P.H., Chudley, A.E., Grant, B.A.  (2011).  Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in a correctional population: Prevalence, screening and diagnosis.  Ottawa, ON: CSC. R-247

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