A child who has FAS displays defects at birth or during development. The most common physical effects of FAS are:
- central nervous system abnormalities (problems with brain development and behaviour)
- a particular pattern of facial features (see below)
- slower than average growth
Children who do not have all three characteristics listed above are said to have FAE.
Signs of central nervous system abnormalities include delayed development, behavioural problems, or learning disabilities and intellectual impairment. For example, children with FAS may develop the ability to speak or walk later than normal. Behavioural problems may include hyperactivity, nervousness, anxiety, and short attention spans.
Typical facial malformations features include short eye slits or drooping eyes, a thin upper lip, flattened cheekbones, and the absence of a distinct groove between the upper lip and nose.
A child with FAS or FAE may be smaller for their age than normal. At birth, the baby may be undersized or have a small head. Other defects include malformation of internal organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Visual impairment and hearing problems may also exist.
Children with FAS are often naïve. With poor judgment and decision-making skills, they sometimes find themselves facing substance abuse and difficulties with the law later in life.