Interventions for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs): overview of findings for five innovative research projects

Res Dev Disabil. 2009 Sep-Oct;30(5):986-1006. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2009.02.003. Epub 2009 Mar 26.


It is well established that prenatal exposure to alcohol causes damage to the developing fetus, resulting in a spectrum of disorders known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Although our understanding of the deficits and disturbances associated with FASDs is far from complete, there are consistent findings indicating these are serious, lifelong disabilities-especially when these disabilities result from central nervous system damage. Until recently, information and strategies for interventions specific to individuals with FASDs have been gleaned from interventions used with people with other disabilities and from the practical wisdom gained by parents and clinicians through trial and error or shared through informal networks. Although informative to a limited degree, such interventions have been implemented without being evaluated systematically or scientifically. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of a general intervention framework developed for individuals with FASDs and the methods and general findings of five specific intervention research studies conducted within this framework. The studies evaluated five different interventions in five diverse locations in the United States, with different segments of the FASD population. Nonetheless, all participants showed improvement in the target behaviors or skills, with four studies achieving statistical significance in treatment outcomes. Important lessons emerged from these five interventions that may explain success: including parent education or training, teaching children specific skills they would usually learn by observation or abstraction, and integration into existing systems of treatment. A major implication of these research studies for families dealing with FASDs is that there are now interventions available that can address their children's needs and that can be presented as scientifically validated and efficacious to intervention agents such as schools, social services, and mental health providers. In the field of FASD research and clinical service, a common theme reported by families has been that clinicians and professionals have been reluctant to diagnose their children because there were no known effective treatments. Results of these five studies dispel that concern by demonstrating several interventions that have been shown to improve the lives of individuals with FASDs and their families.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / epidemiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Research
  • Social Work
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States