FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It can arise from alcohol exposure in pregnancy and affects the developing brain and body of an individual before they were born. FASD is a lifelong, neurodevelopmental condition, often referred to as a hidden disability.

Each person with FASD is affected differently. Each person with FASD has both strengths and challenges, they and their families need support to learn FASD-informed strategies to help them prosper. When an early diagnosis is made, the right supports are put in place in education, at home and in the workplace, then individuals are more likely to succeed and achieve throughout life

Watch our FASD Makes Me, Me animation and follow Charlie for a day at home, school and in the community. This video was created for International FASD Month in September 2021 and was co-created by children, young people and adults with FASD with the support of their families.

Key facts

  • FASD is a condition that may occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol prenatally. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (PAE) can occur at any point during the pregnancy, including before the pregnancy is detected. Alcohol is included within the group of substances called teratogens, or poisons, meaning that it is a substance that can cross to the developing fetus and cause harm at any stage of pregnancy. 

    A 2017 study reported that 41.3% of pregnancies in the UK are PAE, putting the UK fourth in the world for the number of pregnancies exposed to alcohol.  Similar rates were found in a West of Scotland study, with 15% of these exposed to significant harmful levels.  There is no known safe amount or time to consume alcohol during pregnancy, and the UK’s Chief Medical Officer’s advice is that those who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, should abstain from alcohol. 
  • FASD is the most common known cause of neurodevelopment disability and birth defect in the western world. 

  • FASD is a ‘hidden disability’, meaning that you cannot tell by looking at someone whether they have the condition. Around 10% of individuals have specific facial features that are indicative of PAE, these are a thin upper lip, smooth philtrum, and narrow eye opening.  The remainder of individuals with a history of PAE do not have these features, which has historically brought challenges for the individual and their families in terms of professionals recognising the impact of PAE.   

    Within the general population the prevalence of FASD is around 3-5%, meaning that up to 1 in 20 people in Scotland could have FASD. In comparison Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is thought to affect 1 in 94. Some groups are, however, disproportionally affected by FASD including the care-experience community. 

    With early diagnosis, positive relationships and the right supports, individuals can be successful and achieve positive outcomes. 

Common symptoms and characteristics 

The impact of FASD on an individual involves a wide range of common challenges including impulsivity, difficulties with cognition, memory, the sensory system, motor skills, executive functioning, social skills and affect regulation. These are often seen as dysregulation, developmental dysmaturity, a spikey profile of ability and inconsistent performance ‘can’t do today what they learnt yesterday – on and off days’.   

You can find out more in our FASD factsheets area.