Treatment of FASDs

Key Points

  • Treatment and early intervention services are available for people with FASDs.
  • Protective factors such as early diagnosis and special education support can help reduce the effects of FASDs and help people with FASDs reach their full potential.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about specific questions concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.
Doctor sharing information on a clipboard with a caregiver and her child

Treatment overview

Children with FASDs can have impairments in learning, memory, behavior, social interactions, or combinations of these impairments. Some children have poor growth, including reduced head size. Some children with FASDs have minor facial features that reflect problems in brain growth before birth. These symptoms and features can range from mild to severe. Studies have shown that some protective factors can help reduce secondary conditions associated with FASDs.12 Treatment services for people with FASDs are most effective when they address a person’s specific impairments and build upon their strengths.3

Early intervention and protective factors

Early intervention services

There is no cure for FASDs, but research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child's development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years of age (36 months) learn important skills. Services include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. If you think your child has an FASD or other developmental problem, talk to their healthcare provider as soon as possible. In most states, children with a diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) are immediately eligible for early intervention services.

Even if your child has not received a diagnosis, he or she might qualify for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that children younger than 3 years of age who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. The early intervention system in your state will help you have your child evaluated and provide services if your child qualifies.

Learn more about child development, milestones, and delays »

Learn more about early intervention »

Protective factors

A child is being tutored by a teenager.
Children with FASDs may need special education tailored to their needs.
  • Early diagnosis: A child who is diagnosed at a young age can be placed in appropriate educational classes. Early diagnosis can also help the child and family get needed social services. Early diagnosis also helps families and school staff to understand why the child might act or react differently from other children sometimes.
  • Special education and social services involvement: Children who receive special education geared towards their specific needs and learning style are more likely to reach their full potential. Children with FASDs have a wide range of learning needs and behavior challenges that might need to be addressed. Special education programs can better meet each child's needs. In addition, families of children with FASDs who receive social services, such as counseling or respite care have more positive experiences than families who do not receive such services.
  • Loving, nurturing, and stable home environment: Children with FASDs can be more sensitive than other children to disruptions, changes in lifestyle or routines, and harmful relationships. Therefore, having a loving, stable home life is very important for a child with an FASD. In addition, community and family support can help prevent secondary conditions, such as criminal behavior, unemployment, and incomplete education.
  • Absence of violence: People with FASDs who live in stable, non-abusive households or who do not become involved in youth violence are much less likely to develop secondary conditions than children who have been exposed to violence in their lives. Children with FASDs need to be taught other ways of showing their anger or frustration.
  1. Streissguth, A.P., Bookstein, F.L., Barr, H.M., Sampson, P.D., O'Malley, K., Young, J.K. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2004;5(4):228-238.
  2. Streissguth, A.P., Barr, H.M., Kogan, J. & Bookstein, F. L., Understanding the Occurrence of Secondary Disabilities in Clients with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), Final Report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seattle: University of Washington, Fetal Alcohol & Drug Unit, Tech. Rep. No. 96-06: 1996.
  3. Bertrand J, Floyd L, Chasnoff I, Wells A, Bailey G, et al. Interventions for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs): Overview of findings for five innovative research projects. Res Dev Disab. 2009;30(5):986–1006.