Myths about FASD

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about FASD, which is sometimes surprising because it’s not only been identified as a disorder for 40 years, but a great deal of research has been done on it as well. In any case, these are some of the more pervasive myths about FASD:

Myth:  You can tell people have an FASD because they have specific facial features that indicate alcohol exposure in utero.

Fact:  Only a small percentage of people exposed to alcohol in utero have the distinct facial features associated with full FAS. In fact, these facial features form around days 17 -22 of early pregnancy. If a woman does not drink alcohol during those days of pregnancy but drinks at other times during pregnancy, the CNS (central nervous system) damage to the developing fetus happens.

Myth: People with behavioral differences caused by alcohol exposure can be “cured” by therapies like ABA, neurofeedback, and other therapies designed to enhance brain growth and development.

Fact: There is no evidence that brain-stimulating therapies can “fix” the brain of a person with an FASD. The brain of a person with FASD is not like that of a person with a typical brain that was damaged, as in the case of TBI or stroke or a person who’s experienced trauma. The brain is developmentally, structurally, and even cellularly different.

Myth: People with an FASD respond best to a combination of strong, clear consequences for unwanted behaviors, appropriate medications, and talk-therapy

Fact:  Consequence-based behavioral modification works if the person who is experiencing it can change their behavior based on predicted outcomes. Many people with FASD have difficulties in abstract thinking, memory, and executive functioning, so cause-effect thinking is difficult. Consequences-based behavioral modification plans are not recommended for individuals with the brain differences association with FASD.

Medications are something that should be discussed with a qualified medical practitioner, but when considering medication it’s important to ask the question: who is the medication for? Has the person with FASD been given appropriate accommodations? Have environments been changed so the person can experience success? And has developmental age been taken into account when looking at behaviors and what needs to change? A recent study about children with FASD who had a co-morbid ADHD diagnosis showed that once developmental age was taken into account, the ADHD diagnosis no longer seemed appropriate.

Myth: Isn’t the best way to raise awareness about FASD to focus on preventing it?

Fact: We happen to think that prevention is only half the story. Because we are people caring for, living with, and working with people with FASDs, we see the FASD story from a very different lens. Prevention is great, but we’ll leave that to other organizations. Our organization focuses on what people with FASD need NOW. What families need NOW. What the world needs to know NOW.

Myth: There is nothing good about FASD.

Fact: There are the people who have FASD,  the families and loved ones caring for them, the support staff, and the professionals. They are all making a huge, GOOD difference for people impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure.