Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Law and Legal Definition

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) refers to certain birth defects, and serious, life-long mental and emotional impairments that may be suffered by a child as the result of heavy alcohol consumption by its mother during pregnancy. Symptoms of mental and emotional deficits may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), poor social judgment, diminished cause-and-effect thinking, and impulsive behaviors. FAS will not occur if the father was drinking heavily or if the pregnant woman was drinking a very small amount of alcohol on rare occasions. Heavy drinking on a consistent basis or binge drinking on an occasional basis can produce FAS. Fetal alcohol syndrome is currently the leading cause of mental retardation in the United States.

Possible FAS Symptoms:

  • Growth deficiencies: small body size and weight, slower than normal development and failure to catch up.
  • Skeletal deformities: deformed ribs and sternum; curved spine; hip dislocations; bent, fused, webbed, or missing fingers or toes; limited movement of joints; small head.
  • Facial abnormalities: small eye openings; skin webbing between eyes and base of nose; drooping eyelids; nearsightedness; failure of eyes to move in same direction; short upturned nose; sunken nasal bridge; flat or absent groove between nose and upper lip; thin upper lip; opening in roof of mouth; small jaw; low-set or poorly formed ears.
  • Organ deformities: heart defects; heart murmurs; genital malformations; kidney and urinary defects.
  • Central nervous system handicaps: small brain; faulty arrangement of brain cells and connective tissue; mental retardation -- usually mild to moderate but occasionally severe; learning disabilities; short attention span; irritability in infancy; hyperactivity in childhood; poor body, hand, and finger coordination.