Published 2/13/2012
By: Tanya Weinmeyer

Has your child with an FASD ever been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or been in an ASD program in school? Mine has!

When Alex was four they gave him a diagnosis of PDD- NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified).  PDD-NOS is under the Autism Spectrum umbrella. It didn’t feel right to me. I never felt like he belonged with this group of children. All through early childhood my son was in an Autism program. One day after school (in an Autism classroom) when Alex was four he came running out to the car and told me “I met a boy just like me today”. That was the moment that I realized he too never felt like he belonged in the Autism world.

Yet the Autism program worked for him until he was in first grade. In first grade Alex hit a brick wall and was struggling. The school psychologist said she had tried all the techniques known to work for children with an ASD. I was so frustrated that they didn’t understand him and couldn’t see beyond the ASD diagnosis. Why were they trying to fit him into a disability group in which I never really agreed with?

That year we got the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This was just one of many battles I was glad to be over.

Recently I got this fact sheet describing the similarities and differences between FASD and ASD. Looking back I am not sure if this comparison sheet would have helped the school understand my son any better. At least it would have made me feel better to have another tool to try. I wanted to pass them on to you and see what you think.

I encourage you to pass it on to the professionals in your child’s life that are struggling to see FASD as your child’s primary diagnosis.

Similarities Between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and Autism
Dan Dubovsky MSW SAMHSA FASD Center for Excellence

Both are developmental disabilities. Both affect normal brain function, development, and social interaction. In both, the individual often has difficulty developing peer relationships. In both, there is often difficulty with the give and take of social interactions. In both, there are impairments in the use and understanding of body language to regulate social interaction. In both, there is difficulty expressing needs and wants, verbally and/or non- verbally. A short attention span is often seen in individuals with Autism and an FASD. In both, we may see an abnormal sensitivity to sensory stimuli, including an over- or under-sensitivity to pain.

Differences Between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Autism
Dan Dubovsky MSW SAMHSA FASD Center for Excellence

FASD Autism
Occurs as often in males as in females Occurs in males 4 times as often as in females
Able to relate to others Difficult or impossible to relate to others in a meaningful way
Restricted patterns are not commonly seen Restricted patterns of behavior, interests, and activities as a core area
Verbal communication may be slow to develop but is not commonly significantly impaired Difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication
Difficulties begin at birth Difficulties may begin after a period of normal growth
Difficulty in verbal receptive language; expressive language is more intact as the person ages Difficulty in both expressive and receptive language
Spoken language is typical Some do not develop spoken language
Spontaneously talkative Robotic, formal speech
Echolalia not common Echolalia-repeating words or phrases
Stereotyped movements not seen Stereotyped movements
Ritualistic behaviors not commonly seen Ritualistic behaviors
Repetitive body movements not seen; may have fine and gross motor coordination and/or balance problems Repetitive body movements e.g., hand flapping, and/or abnormal posture e.g., toe walking
Social and outgoing Remaining aloof; preferring to be alone
Difficulty with change and transitions Inflexibility related to routines and rituals
Can share enjoyment and laughter Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment
Can express a range of emotion Restricted in emotional expression
Funny; good sense of humor Difficulty expressing humor
Microcephaly more common Macrocephaly more common
Considered a medical disorder in the ICD.  Not in the DSM-IV Considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV

Looking for more information? Learn about the FASD screening & diagnosis process, find support for your family, or visit the MOFAS resource directory.

Share this page:

Training & Webinars

MOFAS is the statewide source for comprehensive, customized trainings on FASD for professionals.

Learn More

Family Support

We provide guidance and support for families living with an FASD.

Get Support


We host events, classes, support groups and more across Minnesota. There's something for everyone.

See Our Calendar
Toll-Free: 1-866-90-MOFAS (66327)  •  Primary Phone: 651-917-2370  •  2233 University Avenue West, Suite 395, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114
Copyright © 2018 Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome | Photos by Amy Zellmer, Custom Creations Photography.

This site is provided to families and professionals as an informative site on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is not intended to replace professional medical, psychological, behavioral, legal, nutritional or educational counsel. Reference to any specific agency does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MOFAS.