This paper reviews the research and current policy surrounding prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to a spectrum of adverse fetal outcomes. This spectrum of abnormalities is collectively termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and may include physical, cognitive and/or developmental symptoms. The aim of this paper is to inform practitioners and other professionals working in a range of fields about the implications of FASD for children and their families. Current research on interventions or programs to work with families affected by FASD is also explored.
- Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause a range of cognitive and physical abnormalities in embryos that can lead to impairments in a range of functions: sensory systems, language and communication, processing pace, learning and memory, abstract thinking, and executive functioning.
- Misunderstanding and labelling of those with FASD can lead to a poor self-concept, disrupted peer relationships, fractured educational and placement experiences and contact with youth justice services.
- The prevalence of FASD is likely to be underestimated by current measures. Certain populations, including children in out-of-home care and children in contact with youth justice services are thought to include an over-representation of individuals living with an undetected FASD.
- Tackling FASD requires focused and coordinated multidisciplinary and cross sector approaches. More information about the prevalence and nature of FASD will allow for improved service planning and implementation.
- Policy directions are needed that prioritise the screening and prevention of FASD in the community.
- Current and future professionals, including those in traditionally adult-focused services, need awareness and knowledge about the significance of FASD and prenatal alcohol exposure on children's lives.