FASD: Diagnosis Is Only The Beginning

mofas webinar fasd 2

Diagnosis of any illness, affliction or disorder is paramount. How else can you treat someone if you don’t know where the problem lies? When it comes to diagnosing FASD, it can be a very time sensitive issue because failure to identify it can lead to long-term setbacks in a person’s mental stability, education, acceptance into society and even their own parenting ability in the future. Because of this, it’s a natural reaction of caregivers to jump right into general treatment once the initial diagnosis is reached. It’s a sudden relief to know that the child isn’t just “bad” and the caregivers didn’t fail in their guidance as much as choose the wrong approach.

As important as that umbrella diagnosis is, we must realize that it is only the beginning. It isn’t the solution – it is the starting point.

Co-occurring Disorders

Many people with FASD deal with several co-occurring disorders. These are separate issues that are a direct result of FASD factors. These are typically mental health and substance use disorders recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). These disorders are often thought to be independent, and treatable as such, when their connection to FASD is not recognized:

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Sensory integration disorder
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

If a FASD diagnosis takes place, but these co-occurring disorders are not addressed as part of the whole, then optimal treatment will never be reached. Imagine you have a pan catch fire on your stove. It begins to spread out to your kitchen. Your first reaction is to turn off the burner, of course. It’s the source of the fire. But, if you do not also put out the small flames that have spread to the curtain or wall – the damage will continue.

Often these secondary disorders are identified according to their symptoms, but not properly associated with their catalyst: FASD. Misdiagnosis such as ADHD,  Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, bipolar, depression, antisocial, borderline personality and even Autism can occur.  While indicators may be similar between FASD co-occurring disorders and disorders such as Autism and ADHD – there are defining differences that require a specific approach to achieve the best results from therapy and treatment. So how do you manage FASD and co-occurring disorders effectively?

A Strengths Based Approach

The key to reaching the best result is to focus not on weakness of the disorder(s), but on the strengths of the individual. What do they do well? What things do they enjoy or excel at? Including the strengths of the supporting family, caregivers and even the community works toward the common goal of uplifting those with FASD and the support group they rely on.


Don’t Concentrate on the Labels

Beyond the terms. Beyond the diagnosis. Beyond the treatment methods. FASD is a human issue. It should always be about the person, not their actions.  Instead of asking “How do we stop them from doing that?” ask  “What does this person need in order to be successful (function at their best) and how do we help them achieve that?”

People with an FASD (and their families) have great potential. Remind them of what they’ve accomplished, not when they’ve struggled.


I was asked, as part of a campaign with Brandfluential, to attend a set of webinars presented by MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) to spread awareness about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). This is part 2 of 3. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can follow along with the next two installments in the coming weeks. For more information about FASD – visit MOFAS.org 


  1. I had to google what FASD was…..then I saw it at the end of your post. Sigh. I guess I shouldn’t have been so impatient, but I had no clue what I was reading about at first.

    But now that I know, I think it’s horrifying that any woman would drink knowing the damage it could do to her child. This disorder shouldn’t even exist.

    1. So many of the comments are completely
      Missing the mark- it’s easy to not understand when you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict or living in generational poverty or homeless. Compassion moms- find some.

  2. I learned a little about FASD when I was in school and with my mom being a Labor Room nurse she has also educated me on it. Being a mother I have no idea why someone would risk the safety of their child to have a few drinks during pregnancy. I could never do that nor did I when I was pregnant. It’s really sad and I wish more mothers educated themselves and saw the consequences before hand.

  3. Very interesting post, didn’t really what FASD was until the end. It’s sad to think some moms would do this.

  4. I will complain weekly about not being able to have a drink (three kids, I mean really!) and often hear, “You can have a glass of wine!” But I just can’t do it. I know how I feel after a couple of sips, after not drinking for a long time. The baby is just so tiny, I couldn’t imagine doing that to a baby. Even after, when I’m nursing, I’ll wait until baby is older and goes longer than a few hours in between to even have one drink. I didn’t realize all the ways it can damage them long run though, sad.

  5. I didn’t know what FASD was at first. This was such an interesting read. It just baffles me how a woman can drink alcohol when they are pregnant knowing all we know now about the effects on the baby. I’ll never wrap my head around that one.

  6. When I taught I had a number of students with FASD. It’s such a difficult thing for children to deal with, it’s so unfair.

  7. I nannied for a family with 5 children years ago. The youngest- he was the one hit hardest by his moms’ alcoholism. He’s got so many issues – and a low IQ on top of it. He’s struggled every day of his life because of FASD and it breaks my heart.

  8. It’s just horrifying to think that any mother would think it was ok to have a drink while pregnant knowing the damages she can inflict on her unborn child. My sister is a hard core drug user, and even she was able to stay clean for 9 months to deliver a healthy baby (who went up for adoption.) If she can do that, any woman can refrain from having a drink while pregnant.

  9. I also had to google FASD. Interesting post. I guess in these situations it’s important not to judge anyone because you never know the whole story. The main thing is that there is help for those who suffer this.

  10. FASD is such a real issue. It breaks my heart that people drink through pregnancy (or smoke or do drugs for that matter).

  11. Thanks for writing such an informative post. One of our doctor’s told us that we need to watch for signs of FASD with our youngest 2 kids as they were adopted from a country where FASD is a major problem.

  12. Oh my gosh, wow. I kept wondering what in the world is FASD, then I read the end, and shook my head. That is crazy. I started wondering as I read this “wow could my seven year old have THIS?” because all symptoms are YES but no, clearly he doesn’t. Thanks for taking part of this campaign to spread more awareness, it is important!

  13. It’s just sad all the way around. The thought of babies having to suffer the rest of their lives because of the choices they didn’t even make.

  14. With so many ladies who can’t have kids, it shocks me when those who can throw it all away so selfishly. They don’t think about what this can do to their children and to the families that their children want to have.

  15. I just don’t understand why anyone would even take the risk. If you can’t put your child first before they’re even born, what kind of parent you will you be later? It’s so sad.

  16. I didn’t know what FASD was at first, either. Your tips are good for any diagnosis. It’s always good to get educated about any diagnosis.

  17. Diagnosis is a big challenge for many doctors; especially when it is not so clear. Thanks for this great and informative post.

  18. Thank you for the helpful information about FASD. I am not familiar with this type of illness, but have dealt with other mental illnesses, including Autism with my twins. Getting the diagnosis sometimes to me is a sigh of a relief but looking at a long road to recovery and/or dealing with it.

  19. I didn’t know what FASD was until the conclusion of your post. I am sad that this exists, but I am happy to know that there is treatment and awareness available.

  20. I dont get why some people think it is ok to drink while prego..I mean alcohol cannot have any benefits to a fetus..!?

  21. I am the adoptive mom of a child with FASD. So glad you wrote this and the part one post. Would love to see part three. Is it up yet?

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