Strategies for Educators

What you need to know about FASD

FASD is a form of brain damage that can make it difficult for students to keep up with others in school or perform activities in daily life.

Individuals with FASD often demonstrate:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Poor judgment, social skills and organizational skills
  • Difficulty recognizing and setting boundaries
  • Good verbal skills but poor follow-through.

Students with FASD often recognize that they are different and that they feel like they are “just not getting it”.

One of the biggest differences between FASD and other exceptionalities- and one of the most frustrating aspects of this disorder – is that many students with FASD have a great deal of difficulty learning from experience. As a result, consequences that may work well with most students may not benefit some of the students affected by FASD.

Secondary Concerns related to FASD include:

  • Being at increased risk of developing emotional problems, such as depression.
  • PLEASE USE THE “Strategies not solutions brochure to  explain the lying, stealing and defiance”
  • They can often be easily led and manipulated,
  • May develop serious social problems including alcohol abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. (I AM NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THIS… )please find another resource to describe… we can talk about this….

An FASD Assessment and Diagnosis can be a protective factor for these students; if they receive a medical diagnosis of FASD (and the understanding and support that goes along with this diagnosis), they are less likely to develop secondary disabilities such as conduct disorders or drug dependency.

Could a student have FASD and we not aware of it?

Possibly. In many ways, FASD is an invisible condition. Because the most obvious symptoms of FASD are often behavioral ones (caused by the brain dysfunction), people don’t always look for a medical cause.

Although there are several distinct physical characteristics that doctors use to help diagnose FASD, people with this disability are affected in different ways and may look quite typical. Therefore, physical symptoms are not an indicator of the severity of brain damage).

Even when FASD is suspected, it is challenging to diagnose this syndrome because:

  • There is no one symptom that can identify FASD
  • There are no specific tests to diagnose FASD
  • Many FASD symptoms are hard to see in babies
  • These children may not be living with their birth parents, making it difficult to confirm the mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy
  • The symptoms of FASD can also be symptoms of other problems

Over the last few years, there has been more research and training for multidisciplinary assessment teams so they can recognize and diagnose this condition more accurately.

What can I do if I suspect a student has FASD?

The school can do an educational and psychological assessment of the individual student and look for immediate ways to support this student. If warranted, school staff can use information from these assessments to encourage the families to seek further medical and psychological assessment, often beginning with the family physician.

FASD is a medical condition that must be diagnosed by a qualified team of health professionals. It is therefore important for educators to direct their concerns appropriately as an attempt to investigate, diagnose or label the student’s learning and behavioral difficulties as FASD may be premature.

A diagnosis of FASD can serve as a protective factor for students and their families. So it is important that student receive a diagnosis- understanding the characteristics and needs of students with FASD helps parents and school staff adjusts expectations, build a supportive environment and better meet the developmental needs of these children.

How to make a referral for FASD Assessment and Diagnosis

What can I tell other students and parents about students with FASD?

Like any medical or family background information, a student’s diagnosis of FASD is confidential information and cannot be the subject of discussion with other students or parents. Schools need to focus on creating inclusive and supportive learning environments in which individual differences are respected and accommodated. Students need opportunities to work together, and they need to be encouraged and to learn how to show empathy and support for one another.

What can schools do to support these students?

School staff need to be aware of the individual needs and strengths of these students, and provide a safe, structured and supportive environment with appropriate levels of supervision, clear guidance and reasonable behavioral expectations.

In the classroom, these students need appropriate levels of support. They also need strategies to accommodate any memory, language or academic difficulties they may have.  And like all students, they need opportunities to be successful, to belong and to contribute to the school community.

What kind of support do teachers of these students need?

Teachers need opportunities to build their understanding of FASD and how it impacts students and their families. Teachers also need the support and expertise of a collaborative team, including the school administrator. Often students with FASD have challenging behaviors and special learning needs that require a team approach. Teachers may also need access to additional professional development and consultants.

What can schools do to prevent FASD?

The only way to prevent alcohol-related birth defects is supporting women to not drink alcohol during their pregnancies. Schools can provide information to students on FASD and the adverse effects of alcohol on the unborn baby. This information can be included in the Health and Life Skills program. Providing students with opportunities to develop strategies for managing emotions and feelings, making personal decisions, building a circle of support and making positive life choices can serve as a protective factor against future alcohol abuse.

What can schools do to enlist the support of families of students with FASD?

Parents lay a critical role in their children’s daily lives and can help school staff understand their children’s behaviors and needs.

School staff may be able to offer support and assistance to parents in the following areas:

  • Setting realistic goals and expectations for their children.
  • Keeping a positive focus on their children’s strengths and accomplishments
  • Facilitating referrals to other agencies, such as health and social services
  • Finding parent support groups and / or counselling with knowledgeable individuals
  • Encouraging parents to participate in specialized parenting courses, such as those dealing with the parenting of children with behavioral challenges.
  • Link parents to online resources.

Some parents may be reluctant to work with school staff for a number of reasons including economic or health difficulties, or a history of negative school experiences. It is essential that school staff encourage these families to actively participate in their children’s education by:

  • Trying a range of ways to contact them (text, email etc)
  • Continuing to invite parents to come to school
  • Asking for the help of a parent advocate, family service agency worker or group already involved with the family, such as a health agency or child and family services
  • Maintaining a positive, understanding and nonjudgmental approach, even when the situation is challenging
  • Recognizing that parents have valuable information and insight about their own children.
  • Involve parents in case conferencing with other service providers

A significant percentage of children identified with FASD are not living with their birth parents: they may be living with other family members or in foster care. Some of these families may still be struggling with alcohol abuse and some birth mothers may have FASD themselves. Many students rely on school being a safe and structured place where they can learn and feel like they belong.

Changing the way we approach students affected by FASD

From seeing the students as …








Acting young

Trying to get attention


Not trying

Refusing to sit still


Trying to annoy me

Showing off

To understanding the student as …Can’t,



Trying hard

tired of failing

Storytelling to compensate for memory


Developmentally younger

Needing contact support

Displaying behaviors of young child

Exhausted or cannot get started

Overstimulated, overwhelmed

Doesn’t “get it”, lacks understanding

Can’t remember

Needing contact, acceptance

From personal feelings of….



Chaos, confusion

Power struggles


To feelings of…Hope




Working with Networking,collaboration

Professional shifts from..Stopping behaviors,Behavior modification

Changing people

Teaching one way

To….Preventing problems by identifying what student needs,

using visual cues

Changing environments

Teaching many ways many times


This is a wonderful resources for educators (About 5minutes)

Video is Produced and Published By NeuroDevNet

These files are part of Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building Strengths, Creating Hope (2004)

Key concepts for planning effective education programs (117 kb)

Organizing for instruction(754 kb)

Creating a positive classroom climate(642 kb)

Responding to students’ needs (1148 kb)