Many years ago, when I was in Teacher’s College, I did my practicum in what we could call today a ‘systems’ class. I worked with several students with Down’s Syndrome, a few with non-specific developmental challenges as well as some students who were identified as having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (now called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). This was the first time I learned about FASD. What we learned was very basic. We were told that there were certain facial features which might help to identify a child with FASD and some unpredictability in behaviour, but other than that, I do not recall learning, in practical terms, how to meet the needs of such a child.
Fast forward to today, and I am far more familiar with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in the classroom than I ever was with FASD – for some reason, it seems it’s just not something we talk about or receive in-service training for. Then last week, I became enlightened by a workshop which helped explain how damaged a developing brain of a fetus that is exposed to alcohol in the womb can become, and what we as educators and caregivers can do to help children affected with FASD. As I heard more about the characteristics and strategies associated with children with FASD (Important to note: the majority of individuals with FASD do not have facial features associated with the disease, hence it is considered an “Invisible Disability”), I became excited about the possibility of fresh interventions that I could use to help some of my students, who, although do not have definitive diagnoses of FASD, still present with key behaviours such as memory deficits or impulsivity.
Some of the key points which have helped me readjust my perspective as I “put on an FASD lens”, I have taken from an information package provided by the Fetal Alcohol Resource Program (Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa). I highly recommend becoming more familiar with the condition because the strategies are relatively simple to employ and can be supportive not only to students with FASD but to any student struggling with behaviours in your classroom. A video entitled, Dear Teacher is also included in the package and serves as a gentle reminder of how we need to treat those of our students who face challenges which may be difficult to understand. I have found these useful reminders at a quick glance, but there is so much more that can be learned about FASD.
The chart below is called, “What FASD is NOT.” I find it particularly useful as it clarifies the ways certain behaviours may initially be perceived, and how, through a different lens, they should be understood.
We NEED to shift our thinking
|From Seen As…..||…To Understand As|
|Doesn’t try||Exhausted/Can’t start|
|Doesn’t care||Cannot show feelings|
|Is a problem||Has a problem|
With a few upgrades in our approach with one of our students who has had particularly challenging behaviours, my teaching partner and I have already noticed an improvement in the child’s independent learning, interactions with peers, and response to direction. Some phrases we have found useful reflect the intent of some of the examples provided in the information package; “I can see this is tricky for you. We are going to solve this later. Let’s get a drink of water.” (patience and redirection) ; “Let’s figure out a better way for next time,” (support rather than punishment); and, “Come here. It’s OK.” (no matter what you do, I am here for you).
At this point, we are by no means specialists in FASD, but we are willing to learn as much as we can as we continue to see positive results. As educators, we all use patience, consistency, support and understanding, but with some of our students, we may need to use a little (or a lot) more.