Skip to main content

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Paraprofessionals must be aware of students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) because although it is not a disability under IDEA, oftentimes Special Education teachers will encounter these students, and are responsible to teach them appropriately.

What is It?

a shelf of books

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are a continuum of disorders that include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, Alcohol Related Birth Defects and many other disorders resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure.

These disorders are characterized by facial deformities, damage to the central nervous system, small head circumference, and low birth weight (Duquette, Sliodel, Fullarton, and Hagglund, 2006).

FASD are the result of mothers’ consumption of alcohol while pregnant, which adversely affects the development of the fetus. This is considered to be the “leading cause of developmental disabilities of known etiology” (Paley, and O’Connor, 2009). In the United States, the prevalence of these disorders has been reported to be from about 1-4% of live births (Green, 2007; Paley and O’Connor, 2009).

Special Education for FASD

FASD is not a category under IDEA, so a student who is served in special education is generally served as having a learning disability, ADHD, or an intellectual disability. Like a person with ADHD, someone with a FASD can struggle with impulsivity, attention, organization, self-regulation, and other executive functions.

Students may also have problems with mental processing, memory, mathematics, time and money similar to those with intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities. In addition to these problems, someone with a FASD might have difficulty generalizing, predicting, and learning from consequences (Duquette, Stadel, Fullarton, and Hagglund, 2006).

Teaching Strategies for Students with FASD

Due to the many challenges that come with having a FASD, these students will likely require extra help whether in a General Education or when receiving Special Education services. One important strategy to help these students is to apply Positive Behavior Support in the classroom (Green, 2007).

Harsh punishment and zero tolerance policies have not been effective in improving behavioral climate in schools. Often these students come from situations that put them at risk even beyond their FASD. They may come from poverty, foster care, or live with extended family.

Another important strategy that helps learning is to “maintain a structured environment: consistent routines, schedule, classroom rules and consequences that are repeated often and linked with choices” (Duqette, Stodel, Fullarton and Hagglund, 2006).

A third strategy that can be used is to teach students with FASD explicitly in small steps. Students with FASD agree with the recommendation and say it is helpful when teachers “break concepts into smaller chunks, and “give clear explanations” (Duqette, Stodel, Fullarton, and Hagglund, 2006).

FASD affects memory and attention, so even if the student has an average intelligence, it is necessary for the student to receive very explicit, task-analyzed instruction. The last strategy for assisting students with FASD, is that after explicitly teaching and modeling a skill, you allow the students plenty of hands-on practice.

References and Websites

  • Duquette, C., Stodel, E., Fullarton, S., and Hagglund, K. (2006). Teaching Students with Developmental Disabilities: Tips from Teens and Young Adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 39(2-), 28-31.
  • Green, J. H. (2007). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Understanding the Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Supporting Students. Journal Of School Health, 77(3), 103-108.
  • Paley, B., and O'Connor, M. J. (2009). Intervention for Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Treatment Approaches and Case Management. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 15(3), 258-267.

United Kingdom