Among the less talked about disabilities encountered in education today is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. The fact that it is not a topic of conversation doesn't mean that it is uncommon.
Outside a medical setting the technical definitions often get blurred in conversation and literature, but it is important to make a few distinctions. FASD is a broad term that covers almost any physical, behavioral, or educational problem that is thought to be the result of exposure to alcohol in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, on the other hand, is a more specific and profound term. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) must include: at least three facial abnormalities; growth deficits for both height and weight; and central nervous system abnormalities. Some other terms (and acronyms) get used occasionally, as well:
- Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
- Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
- Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)
Since FASD is the broadest of the terms and covers basically anyone who suffers from a problem related to prenatal alcohol exposure, I'll use that term. But readers should be aware that the term FAS and FASD are used almost interchangeable much of the time.
FAS is a tragic problem in light of its preventable nature. A group called Better Endings New Beginnings has some relatively up to date U.S. statistics on FASD available. About four million babies are born in the U.S. each year. About one out of a hundred (40,000) have FASD. Of these, about one in five could be medically diagnosed as having FAS. That's 8,000 babies born each year with FAS. That means that about 100,000 children with FASD between the ages of five and 18 are in school are in school today.
Learners with FASD tend to have one or more of the following obstacles to effective learning:
- They are easily distracted
- They are easily frustrated
- The lack some motor skills
- They have a poor attention span
- They lack of organizational skills
- They have difficulty with concrete thinking skills
- They do not related well with their peers
The National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, NOFAS, has some excellent suggestions available online for instructional strategies to use when working with FASD students. They range from simple ideas like preferential seating to assisting with social behaviors and modifying curriculum.
There is also an excellent listserv for FASD available at http://www.faslink.org/faslink.htm. It is archived at the address above and there are instructions as to how to subscribe to it there. The archive is searchable - making it a valuable Internet resource on the subject since the listserv is now ten years old. And the listserv has the advantage of being active and somewhat international. And because of the long history of the listserv it has a feel of community. People share personal information and views that, while sometimes creating discussion threads that are off topic (and heated), result in a very useful Internet experience for people who want to follow FASD issues and events.