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Learning About FASD
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FASD: WHAT IS IT?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder describes a range of disorders caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. It is an ‘educational’ term that refers to a variety of physical changes and neurological and/or psychometric patterns of brain damage. The brain damage can result in a range of structural, physiological, learning and behavioural disabilities. (Clarren, 2004)
The “umbrella” term FASD includes:
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- medical diagnostic term
- four criteria examined by a medical team
- alcohol exposure during pregnancy
- growth deficiency
- certain facial characteristics
- central nervous system dysfunction or brain damage
partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)
- indicates confirmed maternal alcohol exposure
- child shows some of the physical signs of FAS
- child has learning and behavioural difficulties which imply central nervous system damage
Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)*
- child shows central nervous system damage as a result of a confirmed history of prenatal alcohol exposure
- the neurological damage may show up as learning difficulties, poor impulse control, poor social skills, and problems with memory, attention and judgment
*Note: In earlier research and articles, the term Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) usually referred to ARND. The term FAE has been replaced by FASD to better describe the fact that prenatal alcohol exposure occurs on a spectrum (CNC Lakes District, 2006).
FASD is considered to be the most common form of preventable birth disorder in the Western world. Exact rates of FASD are not known and the incidence varies from community to community. Health Canada estimates that approximately 9 out of every 1000 children born in Canada are affected by FASD.
HOW DOES FASD IMPACT LEARNING?
Prenatal exposure to alcohol often damages the developing brain cells. View Modules 1: “What is FASD” and 2: “Alcohol effects on Developing Brain” to enhance your understanding of how the brain may be affected. The damage caused by prenatal alcohol consumption manifests itself in many ways. View Module 3: “Primary Disabilities” to increase your understanding. Once you visually view the gaps, or missing connections in the brain, you suddenly get the “AHA”…”NOW I understand the learning difficulties and the behaviours”. Another “AHA”…”now I understand that the student can’t learn the “normal way” (aka learning theory) – and I thought the student had a won’t learn attitude”. As teachers, we need to change our mind set from “won’t to can’t”. View Module 4: “Paradigm Shift” for a very poignant demonstration of this paradigm shift. View Module 5: "Secondary Disabilities" to help understand what happens when we do not apply our knowledge by implementing strategies for the student whose brain is damaged. We need to develop and use strategies to optimize learning, not based on typical learning theory, but based on an understanding of how the brain of a learner with FASD is damaged (neurobehavioural theory). Through this website, we will help share these strategies. We hope you will share your strategies.
And yet another “AHA”….each learner is different as the timing and amount of the alcohol consumption effects different parts of the developing brain and may result in very different damage. Successful strategies for one student with FASD do not necessarily work for another student with FASD. However, one commonality: the rate of development is slower for students with FASD. A student with FASD who is aged 13 chronologically may be aged 8 developmentally in some areas…and aged 14 in other areas. (Malbin, 1999; Clarren 2004). So, when you just can’t figure out the behaviour, think about the developmental age, the strengths and the damaged brain structure of the Learner and adjust your Environment, Instruction and Curriculum (This is known as the LEIC analysis). View the module called “Dysmaturity” (go to “eLearning” then “Teaching to Strengths and Needs” and click on “Dysmaturity”). Now, piece together the puzzle for success. Remember the golden rule: “Try differently, not harder” (Malbin).
Students with FASD have primary and secondary disabilities. In the classroom, we see many of the primary disabilities. These may include difficulties with cognition, behaviour, development and physical appearance and health. For many of these students, the “executive function” of the brain is damaged; therefore, organization, understanding time, thinking about homework, bringing running shoes for PE, packing a lunch etc may not happen. In the classroom, the learner may have difficulty with predicting outcomes, understanding cause and effect, processing, comprehending, learning math, remembering, staying still, making good decisions, controlling impulses, responding to over or under sensitivity, generalizing, keeping up to the classroom pace, understanding social rules, regulating behaviour, using eye-hand coordination, applying fine motor skills etc. Primary disabilities are present at birth and can’t be changed. However, we can change our LEIC so that the student has a better chance of success. Secondary disabilities are not present at birth. They result from the interaction of the individual’s primary disabilities with their life experience. Secondary disabilities may include: frustration, aggression, fatigue, anxiety, (Malbin, 2002)
In the classroom, look for and build on strengths. Many students with FASD are skilful with music, art, writing and poetry, computers and mechanics. They also may show great compassion, a sense of humour, a willingness to help and insight into their own strengths and challenges.
For more information about assessment , go to Assessment Networks.