Fetal Alcohol Spectrum and Autism Spectrum Disorders
© 2005 Teresa Kellerman, amended 2007
Section 1. Section
36-551, Arizona Revised Statutes: 36-551. Definitions
means a condition characterized by severe disorders in communication and
behavior resulting in limited ability to communicate, understand, learn and
participate in social relationships.
are several types of Autism that together with Aspergerís Syndrome fall under
the category of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
are several types of disorders caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol that
together with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Alcohol Related
Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) fall under the category of fetal alcohol
spectrum disorders (FASD).
FASD and ASD are part of a broader category of pervasive developmental disorders
(PDD). Individuals with both types
of disorders have developmental disabilities (DD).
may be an overlap of the two diagnoses. Some
children have Autism and a fetal alcohol disorder.
It is possible that some cases of Autism are indeed caused by
prenatal alcohol exposure, just as many cases of ADHD are caused by prenatal
exposure to alcohol. It is assumed
that Autism can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. (1)
There is evidence that prenatal exposure to alcohol may be a factor in autism (2).
environmental factors that might contribute to the development of an Autism
disorder include infections, errors in metabolism, lead or mercury poisoning,
and prenatal alcohol exposure. (3) Of
those individuals with diagnosable FASD, only 15% have an IQ under 70 that would
qualify them for DD services under the category of mental retardation.
However, the other 85% have symptoms that would qualify them under the
category of Autism. They all have characteristics described in the ARS definition
for Autism (above). In fact, many
psychologists write in their reports that individuals with FASD have symptoms of
Autism, and many actually receive that diagnosis. It is believed that many of those individuals diagnosed with
high functioning Autism or with Aspergerís Syndrome actually have an invisible
form of FASD.
with FASD and ASD are often grouped together in educational and therapeutic
programs. Intervention strategies
for children with Autism are often applied to children with FASD, and vice
versa. (4, 5, 6)
do not misunderstand what is stated here. This
does not claim that all Autism is caused by alcohol.
This does not claim that FASD is the same as Autism.
This does suggest that some cases of Autism are related to alcohol
exposure. The main point is that
both FASD and Autism are part of the disability category of pervasive
developmental disorders, and as such FASD should be included under the Autism
group to meet the criteria for services for persons with developmental
disabilities, because the criteria required under Arizona Revised Statues for
Autism are present in FASD.
appropriate services, individuals with FASD are at high risk (94%) of developing
secondary disorders that are likely to lead to arrest, addiction, homelessness,
injury, or early death. The
secondary conditions require programs that are much more costly than protective
services that could be provided by the DD system. (7, 8)
2. Nanson, Alcohol Clin Exp Res 1992;16:558.
3. Farber JM. Autism and other communication disorders. In:
Capute AJ, Accardo PJ, eds. Developmental disabilities in infancy and childhood.
2d ed. Baltimore, Md.: Brookes, 1996:347-64.
FAS Community Resource Center