Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

The term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term used to describe a range of irreversible physical, emotional and developmental conditions that may affect a person when they were exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.

Studies have shown that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can lead to long-term effects on growth, behaviour, cognition, language, and achievement, with alcohol being the most common identifiable teratogen (substance causing birth defects) associated with intellectual disability and is a major Public Health concern.


Evidence suggests that women who drink to hazardous levels (more than 14 units/week) are more likely to drink throughout their pregnancy. Alcohol has become normalised within our culture and with an estimated 50% of pregnancies being unplanned, the risk of alcohol exposure to the developing fetus increases.

FASD is 100% preventable. It is essential that everyone working across Ayrshire and Arran Health Board, the three Integrated Health and Social Care Partnerships (IH&SCP) and three local Councils are mindful of the No Alcohol, No Risk message.

Training and Awareness

There are no known safe levels of alcohol during pregnancy. A high level of alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) however, the risks from low level drinking are less clear. That said, it cannot be predicted what fetus is most vulnerable and which one will be affected by low level alcohol exposure. Even low levels of alcohol exposure have been known to cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which can lead to developmental, behavioural and learning concerns. It is essential that there is a clear message of No Alcohol being the safest option during pregnancy. Training and awareness is the key component in keeping this message consistent.

You can access dates for our 2019 training here


The assessment of FASD can be largely dependent upon professional groups being aware of the condition and confident in the process by which individuals can be formally identified, assessed and supported.

Dr John McClure, MBE was instrumental in the very early stages of diagnosing children with FASD in Ayrshire. He first diagnosed FASD in 1973. Many children, now adults, owe the understanding of their condition to his innovative vision and commitment.

The Fetal Alcohol Assessment & Support Team (FAAST) currently provides on-going commitments to increase clinician knowledge and confidence when assessing and diagnosing FASD.

Interventions and Support

Every individual diagnosis of FASD is unique. The way in which a developing fetus is affected is dependent on timing, frequency and amount of alcohol exposure. Image 1 shows the affect of alcohol on the developing fetus Image 2 demonstrates the nine brain domains impacted by prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is a pivotal factor that individuals are accurately understood in terms of their strengths and difficulties. A neurological profile is a key component in reducing assumptions of what may be driving learning or behavioural difficulties, and to share knowledge of the child’s neuropsychological profile so that others’ (particularly colleagues in education) can harness the child’s strengths and target areas to maximise attainment and enjoyment of school. To view Images 1, 2a and 2b, please refer to black box on right side of this page.

Additionally, support and understanding for families is essential. An understanding of the individual profile will help parents/carers to advocate for their child in order to achieve the best outcome for them at home, at school and in the community.


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