Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder has become a meme we now need to deconstruct

Dr Anthony Duncan1

1Forensic Coordination Service (ID) , Karori, New Zealand

A meme is an idea, behaviour, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture, often with some mutations over time.

This paper proposes that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has become a meme whose boundaries are now both too nebulous and too narrow. Too nebulous in the sense that almost any disordered adolescent behaviour can be seen as being an epiphenomena of an underlying FASD, Too narrow in the sense that making the diagnosis can result in  such a narrowly focused formulation  that other possible contributory  and  potentially changeable aetiologies are either  missed or discounted.

This meme driven narrow focus appears to have been encouraged by the extra attention, resources and sometimes court diversion that, in New Zealand at least, now seem to flow from the diagnosis of FASD.

The paper attempts to make a case for the deconstruction of the meme   FASD seems to have  become. It concludes, without in anyway suggesting  FASD is not real or unimportant,  by making a case for focusing more of the attention and finite resources available  back onto minimizing the early and ongoing abuse and neglect of children and adolescents.


Anthony Duncan is a Forensic Psychiatrist in Wellington New Zealand who is currently National Advisor in the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act