Researchers from CanFASD and other partner organizations have recently published a new paper on FASD and early life adversity called Characterizing Adverse Childhood Experiences among Children and Adolescents with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

FASD and Adversity

Individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and FASD experience brain-based and environmental challenges throughout their lives. Prenatal alcohol exposure can disrupt the development of our brain’s stress-response systems, meaning that people with FASD may be more sensitive to stress.

Compounding this brain-based vulnerability, people with FASD also experience abuse, neglect, and other stressful and traumatic experiences at disproportionately high rates. This combination of stressors can have impacts that last for many years.

Equally importantly, there are also protective factors that can help to foster positive outcomes for people with FASD. Individuals who live in stable and nurturing home environments and who are diagnosed early are less likely to experience negative outcomes.

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences that happen during childhood and impact an individual’s health and well-being throughout their life. These experiences include things like trauma, abuse, neglect, and exposure to stressful home environments. Children who experience high ACEs are more likely to have poor physical, psychological, and behavioural outcomes as adults.

The Research Study

Several CanFASD researchers and their colleagues wanted to know more about adverse experiences in early childhood for individuals assessed for FASD. Their research questions were:

1. Do people with PAE and FASD have higher rates of ACEs than those in the general public or other disability groups?
2. Are certain factors – like age, sex, living situation, IQ, co-occurring mental health challenges – linked to higher rates of early life adversity for individuals with PAE/FASD?

To answer these questions, the researchers reviewed clinical records from 333 children and adolescents who were assessed for FASD at one diagnostic clinic in Canada.

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