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Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy and Provider Screening

Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

FAS is the severe end of a spectrum of effects that can occur when a woman drinks during pregnancy. Fetal death is the most extreme outcome. FAS is a disorder characterized by abnormal facial features, and growth and central nervous system (CNS) problems. If a pregnant woman drinks alcohol but her child does not have all of the symptoms of FAS, it is possible that her child has an alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). Children with ARND do not have full FAS, but may demonstrate learning and behavioral problems caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. If you think a child may have FAS or other alcohol-related effects, contact a doctor. Children with FAS or ARND may have the following characteristics or exhibit the following behaviors:

  • small for gestational age or small in stature in relation to peers;
  • facial abnormalities such as small eye openings;
  • poor coordination;
  • hyperactive behavior;
  • learning disabilities;
  • developmental disabilities (e.g., speech and language delays);
  • mental retardation or low IQ;
  • problems with daily living;
  • poor reasoning and judgment skills;
  • sleep and sucking disturbances in infancy.

Children with FAS are at risk for psychiatric problems, criminal behavior, unemployment, and incomplete education. These secondary conditions are problems that an individual is not born with, but might acquire as a result of FAS. These conditions can be very serious, yet there are protective factors that have been found to help individuals with these problems. For example, a child who is diagnosed early in life can be placed in appropriate educational classes and given access to social services that can help the child and his or her family. Children with FAS who receive special education are more likely to achieve their developmental and educational potential. In addition, children with FAS need a loving, nurturing, and stable home life in order to avoid disruptions, transient lifestyles, or harmful relationships. Children with FAS who live in abusive or unstable households or become involved in youth violence are much more likely to develop secondary conditions than children with FAS who have not had such negative experiences.

CDC is working to identify ways to help individuals with FAS and their families lessen or prevent secondary conditions. CDC is currently sponsoring (1) a five-site collaborative effort investigating effective strategies for intervening with children with FAS and/or alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) and their families and (2) the development of educational curricula about FAS and ARND targeting parents, school staff, health and social service providers, law enforcement officials and medical and allied health students and professionals.

Click here to learn about FAS diagnosis, education and training offered by The Fetal Alcohol Diagnosis and Intervention Clinic at the The Florida Center for Child and Family Development.

Find out more about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:


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