|Teachers :: Introduction
If you are a teacher, you may feel uncomfortable having a child with FASD in your classroom. You may not feel qualified to handle the child’s needs. You may think that the child will require so much extra help that classmates’ needs will suffer. All of these are legitimate concerns.
Children with FASD experience a lot of frustration in their lives—in ways that we barely can comprehend. This is particularly true in the school setting. They listen to instructions, but the words get garbled. They comprehend only part of what’s being said. They try their best and still get a poor grade.
They cope with this in different ways: by pretending indifference, clowning around, acting out, or becoming belligerent. All those are SOS signals: “I need help. I learn in a different way.”
Here’s a key to understanding children with FASD: they are easily over-stimulated. Things that don’t affect you and me overly arouse them. For example, the normal class “hubbub” or colorful posters on the walls may be very distracting for them. Because they can’t regulate their reactions to stimuli, it is difficult for them to focus and take in new information. This slows their “processing speed” and impairs their working memory. With help from the child’s parents, you can learn the child’s cues that say, “I’m getting overwhelmed.”
Children with different forms of FASD often test at two standard deviations below the normal level for their age. Their verbal skills are much higher than their nonverbal skills. That is why some people mistakenly believe that children with FASD “just aren’t trying hard enough.” They are trying—but their nonverbal abilities (to plan and set goals, assimilate information, react appropriately in social situations, and so on) hold them back. Their emotions and coping skills are approximately half their chronological age.
Because each child with FASD has different neurodevelopmental problems, each will have different strengths and weaknesses. One may be great at spelling, while the next one struggles in that area. Just like your other students, each has a unique combination of skills.
The important message here is that these children CAN learn—but they need a different approach to enable learning. The Interventions page of this section includes practical tips to help you do just that.
Sometimes children with FASD appear volatile, egocentric, manipulative, angry or resentful, lacking in empathy and/or out of touch with their feelings. They may have mood swings. As a teacher, you may read this paragraph and think, “Oh—that sounds like a fourth of my class!”
The difference is that
- these traits occur in grossly exaggerated form in children with FASD and
- they do not respond to typical [behavior modification] interventions.
Negative consequences are ineffective with these children because their brain damage impedes learning from mistakes. They live in the moment; their brain damage greatly affects their ability to plan. The most effective form of behavior modification in children with FASD is to reward good behavior. The Interventions page of this section gives you practical tips on helping these children have a positive school experience. You may notice that some interventions are the same as those used with autistic children.
Children with FASD frequently need one-on-one help to master material. This may come from another licensed educator, teachers’ aide, or other person who can supplement your classroom efforts. These children frequently need IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). Teaming with the parents is important in establishing an effective IEP. See the Policy and Advocacy section on the Parents' Web Links and Downloads page for tips on writing IEPs that will be effective with FASD.
A checklist can be helpful for recording your observations regarding a child’s daily behavior, abilities, and social interactions. If you need more objective measurements of a child’s abilities, consult your school psychologist or psychometrist. He or she can assess the child’s strengths and weaknesses—particularly in that important area of nonverbal skills. General intelligence measurements must be coupled with assessments of behavioral skills, social adaptive functioning skills and achievement to get a complete picture.
FASD often does not exist in a vacuum. For example, it may co-exist with ADHD or bipolar disorder. The interventions for FASD also help these comorbid conditions.
The following pages give practical tips and offer resources to increase your effectiveness in teaching children with FASD. Most of the resources listed on the Web Links and Downloads page are free.