This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers can make in the classroom to support students with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD. The term FASD is used to describe a range of neurodevelopmental or physical impairments that are caused by exposure of a fetus to alcohol during pregnancy. This ‘invisible’ disability is lifelong and, as the name suggests, students with FASD experience varied challenges depending on their exposure. Some of the functional difficulties that students are likely to be affected by include poor short-term memory, delayed motor skill development, language disorders and sensory overload. Students may also have slower cognitive processing and poor executive functioning. Some students with FASD, but not all, can exhibit poor impulse control or anger management issues or engage in high-risk behaviours. They are also likely to be easily distracted and have poor social skills.
A wide range of educational and behavioural strategies have been shown to be effective in children with FASD.
Anne Russell is the mother of two boys with FASD and she discusses the importance of creating a classroom environment that feels calm to help reduce erratic behaviour. Christine Brooks is a board member of NOFASD Australia and is also a foster parent to a child with FASD. Christine explains that a major area of concern for teachers is that students with FASD can fabricate imaginary experiences to compensate for memory loss. Dr Dee Basaraba, Principal Project Officer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Services, talks about the importance of routine when it comes to building the confidence of students with FASD.
Top five takeaways
It is imperative to create a sense of belonging for a student with FASD within their school community. Through a whole of school approach, provide the student with a safe learning environment, particularly if they are prone to risk-taking behaviours.
Consider that misbehaviour may actually be an inability to regulate conduct. Students with FASD are likely to fill in knowledge gaps with fabrications that they believe to be true, called confabulating.
Remember that students with FASD may have difficulties understanding instructions, retaining learning and completing tasks. Give students more time to process information and respond to questions and teach them to ask for thinking time. In addition, break tasks down into simple steps and repeat instructions to help students with comprehension. Show what the end product should look like and model the steps in between to get there.
Create a calm, clutter-free environment to prevent sensory overload. In addition, ensure that a student with FASD has a dedicated personal space, like a carpet square to sit on. This will help with emotional regulation, the ability to focus on tasks and creating a sense of security.
Adopt a ‘no blame, no shame’ approach and instigate an open channel of communication with a student’s parents.
How could I best support a student with FASD with their executive functioning skills such as organisation and planning?
How can I help a student with FASD retain the information they are learning day-by-day?
What routines and structures can I put in place in the classroom to avoid distractibility?
How can I keep a student with FASD safe and help them regulate their emotions?
How can I help foster a school environment that is supportive and inclusive of a student with FASD?