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Frequently Asked Questions

Information | Age Comparison Table | Developing Baby | Secondary Disabilities | FAQ's

Does an FASD Diagnosis Guarantee Service Eligibility?

Everyone assumes that having a diagnosis of organic brain damage resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure (FASD, ARND, static encephalopathy, partial FASD, etc.) will result in eligibility for services such as special education, developmental disabilities, social security insurance, vocational rehabilitation, and others. Unfortunately, a diagnosis alone will not provide automatic eligibility for any of these services/resources, but it is the first step towards service eligibility.

Currently, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) is not identified as a specific category of disability; instead, it is a medical diagnosis. Eligibility for therapeutic services requires meeting federal, state or district criteria, which involves the use of standardized testing of functioning and functionality. Standardized testing often includes IQ testing as a baseline, and most individuals with FASD have average or above average IQ scores. Unfortunately, their learning, developmental and social functioning is often far below their intelligence.

In addition, standard testing for cognitive, motor, language and emotional functioning often do not “catch” the functioning problems associated with the type of brain damage resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure. In addition, many health, social and educational professionals are not familiar with the broad range of effects associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and so, do not understand the implications an FASD diagnosis may have for the individual’s development.

In the 1996 report from the Institute of Medicine, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment, it identifies three (3) primary barriers to services for individuals with FASD are identified:

1. FASD is not a recognized diagnostic label in most existing service systems, and therefore does not establish eligibility for affected individuals;
2. The lack of diagnostic status prevents access to existing services, particularly for parents who are not able to “ negotiate the system;” and
3. Most alcohol-affected individuals require more than one type of service, and this problem requires that agencies cooperate with each other, which is often very difficult.

While we continue to work toward positive systems change to improve the chances of individuals with FASD being eligible for appropriate services and resources, we know that much progress has already been made through improved diagnostic capacity across the state, training for all services providers about this disability, and improved supports for parents and caregivers to negotiate the multiple service delivery systems.

Even without automatic eligibility for services, having a complete FASD diagnosis, with a thorough central nervous system (CNS) assessment, provides a strong foundation for appropriate and lifelong service eligibility. Often, one piece of the comprehensive diagnosis, such as an auditory processing problem or a speech and language delay will qualify your child for some level of service. The more a parent knows about their child’s diagnosis and the various systems that exist to provide support, the better they can advocate for available and appropriate services. Families struggling to obtain services for a child with an FASD diagnosis can receive advocacy and support from agencies like the Stone Soup Group in Anchorage or the Alaska Disability Law Centers. The more we know and the more we work together, the better our service options will be.

Posted Fall 2002