Characteristics of Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect

Students with FAS/E are as different from each other as any group of children. They come from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Each child presents a complex individual portrait of competencies and delays. Students with FAS/E must be recognized as individuals rather than as members of a homogeneous group.

FAS/E can affect individuals in varying degrees, from mild to severe in the following areas:

Cognitive Functioning.

The intellectual abilities of students with FAS/E can vary greatly. Many students with FAS/E have graduated from high school with minimal extra support and adaptations. To date, a wide range of IQ has been documented: 29 to 120 for FAS and 42 to 142 for FAE.

Other conditions commonly observed in children with FAS/E include:

  • Learning Disabilities (LD),
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD),
  • difficulty with sequencing,
  • difficulty with memory,
  • difficulty understanding cause/effect relationships, and/or
  • weak generalizing skills.

Social/Emotional Functioning

Students with FAS/E may display a variety of atypical responses to unfamiliar or frustrating situations. Increased anxiety may result in withdrawal, outbursts or other acting out behaviours that may be harmful to the student or others in the group. A young child with FAS/E may have severe temper tantrums and find it hard to adjust to change. Many adolescents with FAS/E are prone to depression, poor judgment and impulsivity. They are often described as innocent, immature and easily vicitimized.

Other responses commonly observed in children with FAS/E include:

  • stealing, lying and defiance,
  • difficulty predicting and/or understanding the consequences of behaviour,
  • easily manipulated and led by others,
  • difficulty making and keeping friends,
  • overly friendly and affectionate, easily approached by strangers, and/or
  • perseverative or “stubborn.”

Physical Functioning

Basic physiological responses may be abnormal in students with FAS/E. This may present in one or more of the following ways:

  • A high threshold for pain which can result in the student not being aware of a serious injury or infection.
  • No perception of hunger or satiation.
  • Difficulty perceiving extreme temperatures.
  • Difficulty with visual/spatial perception and balance.

Some children with FAS/E excel in individual sports that require gross motor coordination such as swimming, skiing and roller-blading. Others have significant delays in gross and fine motor skill development which can affect all areas of functioning. In mild cases, delays in motor abilities can influence the acquisition of skills such as tying shoelaces and printing neatly. In more severe cases, children with FAS/E may have had problems learning to chew and swallow food.

Students with FAS/E have a higher than average incidence of a number of other medical concerns. These include:

  • difficulties with vision,
  • difficulties with hearing,
  • heart problems,
  • growth deficiency,
  • neurological conditions such as seizure disorders, and/or
  • impaired bone and/or joint development.

Teachers should be alert to the fact that a number of these health concerns can directly impact the student’s ability to achieve success in the classroom. In some cases, a student’s medical report will include recommendations for the school that may assist in program planning.

The student with FAS/E can bring gifts to your classroom, including a sense of humor, creativity, caring, a love of animals, determination, musical and artistic talent and a desire to please.

Through formal and informal assessments, you will be able to develop a plan that draws on your student’s strengths to support his or her educational needs. It is important to think about where the child has started from, where he or she is today, and the long term goals for tomorrow.

An essential ingredient throughout the process is developing and supporting the student’s self-esteem. Nothing lights up a child’s face more than achieving something through a learning experience. It is important to set up a classroom where this can take place as often as possible.

Reaching Out to Children With Fas/Fae: A Handbook for Teachers, Counselors, and Parents Who Live and Work With Children Affected by Fetal Alcohol Sy