Types of Treatment for FASDs

Key points

  • Treatment services for people with FASDs are most effective when they address a person’s specific impairments and build upon their strengths.
  • Medical care, behavioral therapy, and parent training are some approaches to help support people with FASDs and their families.
Doctor describing treatment options to parent and child

Medical care

Healthcare provider listening to a child's breathing with a stethoscope
People with FASDs need quality medical care, just like everyone else.

People with FASDs have the same health and medical needs as people without FASDs. Like everyone else, they need well-baby care, vaccinations, good nutrition, exercise, hygiene, and basic medical care. But, for people with FASDs, concerns specific to the disorder must also be monitored and addressed. This can be done by a current healthcare provider or through referral to a specialist. The types of treatments needed will be different for each person and depend upon the person's symptoms.

Types of medical specialists might include the following:

  • Pediatrician
  • Primary care provider
  • Geneticist/dysmorphologist
  • Otolaryngologist
  • Audiologist
  • Immunologist
  • Neurologist
  • Mental health professionals (child psychiatrist and psychologist, school psychologist, behavior management specialist)
  • Opthalmologist
  • Plastic surgeon
  • Endocrinologist
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Nutritionist
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Physical therapist


African American mother reading medication label with young child in her lap
Medication can help manage some symptoms of FASDs.

No medications have been approved specifically to treat FASDs. But, several medications can help improve some of the symptoms of FASDs. For example, medication might help manage high energy levels, inability to focus, or depression.

Below are some examples of medications used to treat FASD symptoms.

  • Stimulants: Hyperactivity, problems paying attention, and poor impulse control, as well as other behavior issues
  • Antidepressants: Sad mood, loss of interest, sleep problems, school disruption, negativity, irritability, aggression, and anti-social behaviors
  • Neuroleptics: Aggression, anxiety, and certain other behavior problems.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: Anxiety

Medications can affect each child differently. One medication might work well for one child but not for another. To find the right treatment, the healthcare provider might try different medications and doses. It is important to work with your child's healthcare provider to find the treatment plan that works best for your child.

Behavior and education therapy

Behavior and education therapies can be important parts of treatment for children with FASDs. There are many different types of therapy for children with developmental disabilities. However, only a few have been scientifically tested specifically for children with FASDs1234.

The following are behavior and education therapies that have been shown to be effective for some children with FASDs.5

Good Buddies—A children's friendship training to teach individuals with an FASD appropriate social skills1

Children with FASDs often have difficulty learning subtle social skills from their own experiences. These kinds of skills are typically learned "by osmosis" or observation on the playground. Such skills might include how to slip into a group, appropriate sharing, or dealing with teasing. This intervention uses a group format to teach age-appropriate social skills over 12 weekly sessions for parent and child. Sessions are organized around and toward each child hosting a play date with a classmate or peer.

Families Moving Forward (FMF)—A program to provide support for families who deal with challenging FASD behaviors2

This intervention is most appropriate for children with severe, clinically significant behavior problems based in part on positive behavior support techniques. It is a feasible, low-intensity, sustained model of supportive consultation with a parent or caregiver (rather than directly with the child). The intervention lasts 9 to 11 months, with at least 16 every-other-week sessions, typically lasting 90 minutes each. Services are carried out by mental health providers with specialized training.

Math Interactive Learning Experience (MILE)—A program to help with mathematics difficulty3

Deficits in mathematical functioning have been reported consistently among children with FASDs. The MILE program is designed to improve the child's mathematical knowledge and skill. Children complete 6 weeks of one-to-one tutoring. Sessions use specifically adapted materials (for example, vertical number line, timers, and so on) that are appropriate to their academic level. Parents also receive training on behavioral regulation techniques to optimize the child's readiness to learn.

Parents and Children Together (PACT)—A neurocognitive habilitation program to improve self-regulation and executive function4

Building on techniques developed from the brain injury literature, this intervention uses 12 weekly sessions with parents and children. Sessions address and improve behavior regulation and executive function (that is, planning, organizing, and understanding of others). It uses a particularly engaging metaphor of "how does my engine run?" This teaches children awareness of their current behavioral state and specific techniques for optimizing that state for the current situation.

Parent training

Male adult at eye level with young child depicting parenting tips
Caregivers can help provide a supportive environment for a child with an FASD.

Children with FASDs might not respond to the usual parenting practices. Parent training has been successful in educating parents about their child's disability. It also explains ways to teach their child many skills and help them cope with their FASD-related symptoms. Parent training can be done in groups or with individual families. Such programs are offered by therapists or in special classes.

Although each child is unique, the following parenting tips can be helpful.1234

  • Concentrate on your child's strengths and talents.
  • Accept your child's limitations.
  • Much of your child's challenging behavior is because of brain-based challenges rather than willful misbehavior.
  • Be consistent with everything (discipline, school, behaviors).
  • Use concrete language and examples.
  • Use stable routines that do not change daily.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Be specific—say exactly what you mean.
  • Structure your child's world to provide a foundation for daily living.
  • Use visual aides, music, and hands-on activities to help your child learn.
  • Use positive reinforcement often (praise, incentives).
  • Supervise—friends, visits, routines.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Families living with FASDs might need support from a family counselor or therapist. Parents might also benefit from local support groups, in which they can discuss concerns, ask questions, and find encouragement.

Contact the Family Navigator program provided by FASD United (formerly NOFAS). This provides individuals living with FASDs and their family members and caregivers with expert, confidential support and referrals. FASD United also has a searchable resource directory.

Alternative approaches

With any disability, injury, or medical condition, many untested therapies become known and are promoted by informal networks. These therapies are referred to as alternative treatments. Before starting such a treatment, check it out carefully, and talk to your child's healthcare provider. Your child's healthcare provider will help you weigh the risks and benefits of these therapies.

Some of the alternative treatments used for people with FASDs include the following:

  • Biofeedback
  • Auditory training
  • Relaxation therapy, visual imagery, and meditation (especially for sleep problems and anxiety)
  • Creative art therapy
  • Yoga and exercise
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Massage, Reiki, and energy healing
  • Vitamins, herbal supplements, and homeopathy
  • Animal-assisted therapy

Note: CDC has provided the information on this page because it may be of interest to you. CDC does not necessarily endorse the views or information presented. CDC cannot answer personal medical questions. Please talk to your healthcare provider about specific questions concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.