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Learn about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders > Characteristics

The symptoms and characteristics of FASD can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although FAS is defined by a set of certain characteristics and diagnostic criteria, children and adults can exhibit many combinations of characteristics in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act very differently from one another and have varying skills and needs. This broad range of cognitive and behavioral disabilities associated with prenatal alcohol exposure is often attributed to dosage, timing and patterns of drinking during inutero exposure to alcohol. Recent studies on FAS and ARND suggest that specific neurobehavioral functions are consistently impaired, whereas others are spared so the outlook for persons diagnosed with FAS or ARND should not be considered hopeless.

Every person with FASD is an individual, and like all individuals, has a unique personality and combination of characteristics.

Red flags - what to look for

Developmental Delays - Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Problems

  • mental retardation
  • attention deficits
  • hyperactivity
  • poor impulse control
  • problems in social perception
  • speech and language delays or deficits
  • poor capacity for abstract thinking
  • specific deficits in math skills
  • problems changing behavior or response in different situations
  • problems anticipating consequences
  • problems with cause and effect

Physical Problems

  • hearing loss
  • poor eye-hand coordination
  • deficits in fine motor skills
  • problems with balance and walking
  • problems with sleeping or feeding

Behavior Problems

  • hyperactivity
  • stubbornness
  • impulsiveness
  • irritability
  • risk taking

Cognition and Learning

  • visual spatial skills, learning, memory
  • low IQ
  • problems following multiple directions
  • trouble understanding cause and effect
  • speech and language
  • abstract reasoning
  • missing meaning, humor, and insight in conversations, innuendo
  • unable to think about the cause and effect of consequences
  • inability predicting an outcome
  • socialization and independence
  • not be able to rely on their own skills
  • may have lifelong needs for support and supervision
  • inappropriate display of affection
  • judgement skills
  • act before they think (life-long and across the spectrum)
  • may seem non-compliant and willful when in fact they are simply unable to understand the command or rule
  • ages and stages
  • socially and developmentally younger than their chronological age
  • people with FAS often can talk the talk but can’t often walk the walk