Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term for a neuro-developmental disorder which results from prenatal alcohol exposure. Individuals with FASD can experience complex physical, behavioural, learning and intellectual problems that persist throughout the lifespan. FASD is diverse and individual depending on when and how much alcohol was consumed during brain development.
Research has consistently found the brain to be the organ most sensitive to the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol, as the brain is developing throughout the entire pregnancy. Each level of development of the brain (and body) builds on the previous, so if the first part of brain development is affected by alcohol, it affects the rest. The wide range of impacts includes both physical and cognitive (behavioural and learning) effects.
The IQ range for all on the spectrum is from 20 – 130. Approximately 20% of those diagnosed in New Zealand have an intellectual disability, defined as an IQ below 70. This qualifies them for Disability Support Services – if an IQ of under 70 cannot be proven, individuals are currently not eligible for DSS.
However, IQ is not the only measure of brain function – people affected by FASD can have an ‘average’ or even quite high IQ, but are seriously affected by deficits in their adaptive and executive functioning. For this reason FASD-CAN and others advocate for a change in the criteria for DSS.