Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the Classroom

Children affected by FAS are a challenge in the classroom because they have difficulties with learning, paying attention, memory and problem solving. The term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is commonly used to cover the range of effects seen in children whose mothers drank alcohol during their pregnancy. FASD can include physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities, with developmental delays and possible lifetime implications. Most children with FASD have normal or above normal IQs (only 15% having IQs below 70) and the symptoms that show up in the classroom are first seen as "behavior problems."

The symptoms represent permanent brain damage from alcohol persisting into adulthood and include attention and memory deficits, hyperactivity, difficulty with abstract concepts, poor problem solving skills, immature social behavior, lack of emotional control, poor impulse control and poor judgment. Understanding that these behaviors are not within the child's control and can be made worse by abuse and neglect, teachers may have few strategies for dealing with inappropriate behavior apart from being more forgiving when it happens.

Some experts believe that children with severe FASD cannot be educated but more research is needed before this pessimistic prediction can be confirmed. Children with antisocial behavior are often placed in special education programs but as their symptoms often duplicate other diagnoses such as ADHD they are often undiagnosed and their behavior and learning difficulties remain a puzzle for their teachers.

The best practices for supporting a child identified as having FASD begin with establishing the child's areas of strength and weakness, reviewing formal reports and assessments from personnel involved in the child's case and talking with the parents to obtain appropriate background information. The FASD child will need much the same support and guidance being given other learning and behavioral disabled children in the classroom. Lesson plans and study skills are not as important as setting up a Behavior Plan for the child, with lots of positive feedback and a reward system. Patience and empathy, a stable environment and consistency with rules and expectations are the basis for working with FASD affected children. The fact that there is no cure makes a teacher's support and understanding even more crucial.

Resources for teachers, information and assistance are readily available online. One very comprehensive resource is the British Columbia Ministry of Education handbook on Teaching Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It offers a comprehensive series of detailed strategies for helping FASD students develop their own inner resources on the basis of not expecting too little and not demanding too much. Many of the suggestions resonate with other learning or behavior disabilities and reiterate the need for teachers to provide lesson plans which are have a consistent, predictable schedule of activities. The importance is stressed of setting up a classroom environment where a child's self-esteem can be developed through many small successful learning experiences. Teachers are reminded also, that FASD students can bring gifts to the classroom such as creativity, a sense of humor, caring, musical and artistic talent and a desire to please. Because FASD is a lifelong disability, it also calls on the integrated efforts of school, family and community to create a team to follow through on long term goals for the student's future.

More Information On Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

  1. Advice for Parents of Children with FAS
  2. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic and Prevention Network
  3. National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome