Why education considerations are important
- There are thousands of students living with FASD in Ontario schools
- It’s important that educators and allied professionals have the tools to appropriately meet the needs of students with FASD with or without diagnosis
- It’s vital to build capacity within the education system through collaboration with families and the community to respond appropriately to the diverse needs of students with FASD
- We need to be aware and implement new ideas in our continuing efforts to improve the capacity to provide effective interventions and supports for students with FASD
What are the Behavioural Characteristics of Students with FASD?
Primary: Direct brain damage that a person is born with. The student cannot control these neurodevelopmental behavioural characteristics.
Secondary: Characteristics that emerge as a result of not addressing the primary characteristics effectively. They are caused by a poor fit between expectations and the environment.
Tertiary: Characteristics that develop as a result of not addressing the secondary characteristics (e.g., difficulty with the family, the community, school and legal system because the student has had so much trouble with school). These effects tend to be complex, costly and challenging to manage. Tertiary Effects may also be called Adverse Effects.
How the primary symptoms of FASD might manifest in the classroom
Do you see these “A-L-A-R-M-S” in your classroom?
(Based on the original work of Conry, J. and Fast, D., “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Criminal Justice System”, BC FAS Resource Centre, December 2000.)
Refers to the effectiveness with which a person relates to the world around them at an age appropriate level. As a result of adaptation difficulties, students need to be taught how to be effectively interdependent rather than independent. Students may:
- act younger than their chronological age, otherwise known as dysmaturity
- have difficulty following rules
- have difficulty knowing social boundaries
- have poor social skills
- have difficulty maintaining positive social relationships (e.g. keeping friends)
- show poor hygiene and self-care
- show poor judgement in school, work and community situations
- have problems with transitions (e.g., rotary timetable, supply teacher, etc.)
- often show inconsistent performance (e.g., appear to have a skill one day and but not the next day)
Students may have difficulty with understanding and using language; they may have lots of “language” but little comprehension. As students age, abstract language expectations often exceed their abilities. Students may:
- say they understand when they don’t
- be able to repeat instructions but not put them into action
- not understand the subtleties of language (e.g., taking hints and reading social cues)
- have difficulty understanding abstract language (e.g., “soon”, “later”, “perhaps”)
- not recognize that different words have the same meaning and require the same behaviour (e.g., “don’t run”, “walk please”, “slow down”)
- exhibit weak narrative skills
- have difficulty with pragmatic skills (e.g., using language in a social situation).
ADD/ADHD is frequently diagnosed. Students may exhibit the predominately impulsive or the predominately inattentive type of this disorder. It should be noted that psycho stimulant medications might not work because the underlining brain chemistry and infrastructure may not be typical. Students may exhibit:
- difficulty with staying on task
- difficulty filtering out stimuli
- difficulty inhibiting behaviours (e.g., they say things without thinking).
Students are unable to use the information they receive; performance may not reflect their overall level of cognitive functioning. (e.g., most have average IQ and language assessment scores but will not be able to access or use this information and/or skills when needed.) Students may:
- have difficulty with mathematics, science, time and money concepts
- have difficulty learning from consequences
- not respond to usual sanctions and rewards programs (e.g., detentions, incentives, etc.)
- have trouble with predicting outcomes (e.g., do not connect cause and effect)
- have trouble with generalization and tend to focus on pieces rather than the whole concept (e.g., knowing that old rules apply in new situations)
- have difficulty seeing all possibilities
- be unable to empathize with others or understand how their actions affect others
- tend to be risk takers because they lack a sense of danger
Memory is one of the pillars of learning (along with attention). When a student has weaknesses in memory, they will experience challenges within a learning environment.
These challenges could include:
- not completely understanding new or less familiar material the first time it is presented
- developing literacy skills (e.g., forgetting the beginning of the word by the time they get to the end of the word when sounding out a word)
- have difficulty retrieving information from their knowledge base (e.g., ‘finding’ the right word). This makes it difficult for them to participate in classroom discussions
- following directions
- taking tests
- transferring knowledge from formal learning to everyday application (e.g., they may be able to spell a word on their spelling test but not in their journal);
- organizing language in order to complete sequential tasks (e.g., cleaning out their locker, performing math procedures)
- multi-tasking and monitoring their progress while working
- remembering events and/or information (e.g., rules) to guide actions (e.g., remembering to eat lunch)
- solving problems independently
- completing work within normal timelines including answering questions, completing seatwork and homework
- memory variability (e.g., they will remember something yesterday but not today)
Sensory Processing Disorders (SPDs)
Sensory Processing Disorders are very common for students with FASD. They misinterpret everyday sensory information including sight, taste, touch, sound, movement and smell. Some students feel overwhelmed by sensory information (hypersensitivity), and others seek out intense sensory experiences (hyposensitivity). Some students can exhibit both types of sensory processing disorders. Students may:
- misinterpret light touch as an “attack”
- respond negatively to buzzing from fluorescent lighting
- want to wear hoodies or caps to reduce stimuli
- react intensely to sudden or loud noises (e.g., fire alarm, school P.A. systems)
- be over-stimulated in cluttered classrooms
- self-stimulate (rocking in chair, banging pencil on desk) to calm themselves
- be oversensitive to perfumes, colognes, food odours
- react to, or need strongly flavoured foods (e.g., excessive salt on food)
- have oral fixations (e.g., chewing clothing, hair, biting fingernails)
- may respond to tags, textures of clothing
A-L-A-R-M-S in the school setting represents the primary characteristics of FASD. These characteristics are rarely found in isolation. For example, a student with attention disorders, weak reasoning skills and memory deficits may lack common sense and have trouble learning due to their unique combination of challenges. Behaviours in the classroom reflect a poor fit between the expectations and the environment in which the student is operating. Behaviour = brain damage! Note: Because FASD is a spectrum disorder; individuals with FASD will present their brain damage and unique strengths differently from person to person.
Reframing the paradigm with which we view the behaviours of students with FASD is crucial to effectively supporting students. To be effective with these students educators need to see them as being unable to behave as opposed to wilfully misbehaving and as having brain damage as opposed to “being a bad kid.”
Tip: Think can’t not won’t and brain-damaged not bad.
What accommodations do service providers and families need to make?
- One way to effectively support students with FASD is the neurobehavioural approach developed by Diane Malbin. This model provides a context in which educators and allied professionals can use their existing skills and strategies to meet the needs of students with FASD and other brain-based disorders with behavioural symptoms. See also our Education Essentials document.