Behavior and cognitive problems from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can cause a wide range of behavioral problems and thinking and reasoning (cognitive) problems that can affect a child's school performance. The child may have:

  • Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, which may also be symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Extreme mood changes, aggressive behavior, or temper tantrums.
  • Poor ability to think in abstract ways.
  • Difficulty with math skills.
  • Learning difficulties related to mental retardation. Depending on how bad the child's alcohol effects are, his or her IQ may range from average (IQ about 100) to severely mentally retarded (IQ of about 20). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most common known causes of mental retardation.
  • Hearing problems.
  • Speech problems, if the child has jaw defects.

Children with FASD can have problems getting along with others because they may not be able to:

  • Consider the consequences of their actions.
  • Control their impulses.
  • Correctly interpret the actions of other people.

To be attributed to FASD, these problems cannot be related to the child's developmental level or caused by problems in the child's family or living situation.

Last Updated: March 17, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & William Gilbert, MD - Perinatology

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