Kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and School

Advice for Teaching a Child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Facial traits of a baby/child with FAS
Facial traits of a baby/child with FAS. Google Images/

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD). It afflicts children whose mother drank excessively during her pregnancy. FAS children have physiological and psychological deficits. Other partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS), alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorder (ARND) and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD). The socio-economic difficulties associated with most kinds of maternal alcohol abuse tend to insure that these children rarely get the help they need, and are often found in mainstream school situations, mostly to their detriment.


What Are the Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Children who suffer from the most damaging forms of FASD are not hard to notice. FAS impacts stature, the shape of the head and eyes, coordination and body weight. In addition, these children often show behavioral issues: they are risk takers, often at odds with authority, and are prone to abusing alcohol and drugs as well as high-risk sexual activity. Hand in hand with FAS go dysfunctional families driven by alcohol abuse; life in foster homes; and possible physical, emotional or sexual abuse. 

Teaching Chldren with FAS

If you happen to be working with a child who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, then you probably already know that you need to be very flexible with your expectations. It is not uncommon for a child with FAS to have been placed in many foster homes or to have issues that relate not only to being in a dysfunctional alcoholic family but to the upheaval and trauma caused by an unstable environment.

They may be lucky and have had just one foster home, however, it's more often the case that they have had many. Bottom line, these children need a great deal of support.

Characteristics of Students with FAS

  • Demand a great deal of one-on-one attention.
  • Tend to ignore boundaries.
  • Often fail to distinguish right from wrong.
  • Often do not care about dangerous or high risk situations.
  • Rarely stay on task.
  • Fidget frequently, and need to keep their hands busy.
  • Coordination and judgement are weak.
  • Academic skills are often quite low.
  • Social skills are weak; often have friends that are similar to themselves.
  • Great deal of difficulty focusing.
  • Prone to anger, outbursts, tantrums, yelling or becoming extremely upset.
  • Self esteem is very low.
  • Try to fit in and will end up in the 'wrong crowds' as they will steal, cheat, lie, etc. to fit in with a group.
  • Lack fear and will therefore engage in dangerous behaviors.
  • Impulse control poor or non-existent.
  • Hygiene may suffer with age.
  • It is not unusual for a FAS child to max out at about a 3rd or 4th grade academic level and remain there for their entire life. (This may differ with a strong family setting and a great deal of support.)

See How To Support a Child with FAS