Implications for Teaching and Learning

“Students with FASD must be recognized as individuals rather than as members of a homogeneous group. FASD can affect individuals in varying degrees, from mild to severe” (Healthy Child Manitoba, 2009)

Essential Tips for Teachers: (FASD Outreach Program)

Respect, build a relationship, and understand the learner

- It is important to know and understand the student’s developmental age and not go by the chronological age, these two are not the same. Getting to know the family and building relationships with them is important to maintain the lifestyle necessary for the student to succeed. Also, understanding that instructions must be given one at a time, repeated, broken down into simpler tasks and the student should be offered help if needed.

Acknowledge the organic brain injury

- Understanding the individuals brain injury and the behaviours and learning styles linked to it are essential to the child’s success

Acknowledge the environmental influences

- A teacher must be aware of what is happening in the classroom that could possibly affect the way the learner’s brain and senses are functioning. For example, the noises, the sights, the smells, etc.

Use a strengths-based approach

- Children with FASD have a number of strengths and contributions to the classroom. It is very important to recognize these and build upon them to show the student they are unique and special just like every other student, to help build their confidence. Also allowing them to use their strengths to contribute to the community is important to help improve their self esteem, just like any other student.


- Communication with the student, the caregivers, school and community to ensure the previous points are being incorporated.

Practice patience

- Remembering that their brain is damaged and so things that might seem simple for us are not necessarily for them.
- Repetition quietly and patiently, model, and allow much response time.

Apply the "structure, routine, consistency" rule

- Changes or transitions cause stress to giving students lots of notice to any changes in their already strict routines is vital for smooth transitions.

Remember: every learner is different


So how do they learn?

Students with FASD have both Primary and Secondary disabilities. “A primary disability, or neurobehavioral impairment, is a behaviour that most clearly reflects differences in brain structure and function ((Streissguth in Malbin, p22) FASD Outreach )”. According to the FASD Outreach Program and FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan Inc., the primary disability can result in behaviours such as impulsivity, difficulty linking actions to outcomes, difficulty predicting outcomes, difficulty generalizing information, difficulty abstracting, difficulty staying still, difficulty paying attention, memory problems, inconsistent performance, slower auditory and cognitive processing, difficulty sequencing, overly stimulated, overly sensitive, under sensitive and fatigue. Due to the primary disability, teachers often think that students “won’t” do the work, the reality is they “can’t” do the work. For example, if the learner appears to be lazy or unmotivated, it is probably because they are tired of trying hard and failing. If they are acting immature, it is because their cognitive age is younger than their biological age. And if they seem they are always seeking attention, it is because they need help or support.

Secondary disabilities are those difficulties that arise later in life due to a poor fit between the individual’s needs, level of functioning and the environment” (FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan Inc.). “A poor fit results from not adapting the environment, instruction or curriculum to meet the needs or disabilities of the learner...” (FASD Outreach Program). According to the FASD Outreach Program, secondary disabilities may result in trouble with the law, employment problems, drug and alcohol issues, mental health issues, victimization, difficulties with parenting and independent living, exploitation, inappropriate sexual behaviours and premature death.

And now how do we teach them?

Although FASD may seem to limit these children in certain ways, there are a number of areas where these children have amazing strengths. According to the FASD Outreach Program, they are artistical, musical, athletic, verbal, friendly, outgoing, affectionate, good with small children and the elderly, determined, willing, helpful, and generous and have a good visual memory among many other things. So as teachers it is important to find their strengths.
According to the British Columbia Ministry of Education, the best place to start teaching the student is to first collect information on what the student requires to be successful. How serious is their case? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Etc. The teacher must also learn the student’s personal and academic history. Check old report cards, be aware of the recommendations from psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and any medical reports, know family and medical background information and gain access to the most recent Personal Program Plan that has been developed for this student.
The next step a teacher needs to take is to start planning for successful and meaningful instruction. According to the Alberta Learning Special Programs Branch and Learning and Teaching Resources Branch there are 7 necessary steps to this process.

1. Structure the physical learning environment
“Structuring the physical school and classroom environment contributes to effective educational programming for students with FASD. A thoughtfully structured physical environment can also benefit other students with special needs” (Alberta Learning).
Students with neurological impairments do not always perceive the physical environment like other students. The way a classroom is set up can cause a student to become distracted due to sounds, smells or sights. Due to this, students will use different strategies to help them cope such as hiding under a desk, running around, talking loudly or acting out. Making sure the environment is safe and adapted to the students needs is key to helping them have a successful learning year. A few things a teacher could do to prepare their classroom is to use a portion of carpet on the floor to reduce noise level and use tennis balls on the legs of chairs. Colors should be neutral to reduce visual distractions as well as limiting posters and visuals on the walls. Be aware of temperature, buzzing or humming lights, heating pipes and traffic noises outside the classroom and school. Using headphones is helpful as well.

2. Develop effective routines
“Teaching a routine effectively requires direct instruction, practice and monitoring. Use clear and concise vocabulary. To avoid confusion, limit conversation during instruction and focus on essential information” (Alberta Learning). Alberta Learning Special Programs Branch and Learning and Teaching Resources Branch also states that it is important to keep in mind that new routines can to take two to six weeks to learn and it is important to bring students into new routines slowly and with much warning.

3. Teach time concepts
“Students with FASD often have difficulty learning and using time concepts. They frequently take many years to learn to tell time using an analog clock. Even if they can read a digital clock or watch, they may not have a real sense of how long a minute, hour or day is” (Alberta Learning). It is important to use pictures, charts and large visuals to help students understand time. Hourglasses and egg timers can also give students a concrete idea of how time passes. Students’ schedules stuck on their desks and lockers helps them with the concept of time as well as routines and if these schedules have the option to remove completed tasks students will stay on track better.

4. Build skills for participating in whole class instruction
Students with FASD want to be included just like any other student. They want to feel like they belong and have friends but may lack the skills to accomplish this due to cognitive and behavioural difficulties. As a teacher, it is important the activity is planned to help this child succeed. For example, the size of the group, time of day and activity will all impact the student’s ability to feel like they are part of the group because this will effect whether they feel over or under stimulated.

5. Teach social and adaptive skills
“Many adolescents and adults with FASD appear emotionally immature even if they have normal intelligence levels and adequate academic skills. They often act like children half their chronological age” (Alberta Learning). For example, a student at the age of 16 may act like an 8 year old. Due to this they often have trouble relating to peers their same age. Many children, through observing others, can begin to acquire the necessary social skills, but it is very important that they are still taught what is culturally acceptable and are given opportunities to practice so they can be successful in our everyday world.

6. Plan for non-classroom settings
“Students with FASD often experience difficulty adjusting to non-classroom school settings, such as the playground, school bus or lunchroom. Success in these settings requires extra planning and supports” (Alberta Learning). Extra help for these students is necessary in this case such as reviewing how to get on the school bus after school, have buddies for the students to help them at recess, provide a limited number of and clear choices or allow them to help supervise younger students at recess.

7. Help students generalize new skills and concepts
“Students with FASD frequently encounter difficulty transferring skills from the initial teaching situation to new situations” (Alberta Learning). Selecting programs that have goals that can be taught across a wide range of situations is important to help them with transferring of skills. Give students the chances to use the same skill in many different situations.

Alberta Learning: Special Programs Branch, Learning and Teaching Resources Branch.(2004). Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

FASD Support Network of Saskatchewan Inc. (2009). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: a guide to awareness and understanding.

Healthy Child Manitoba. (2009). Working Together to Educate Children in Manitoba with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

(2006). Provincial Outreach Program for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from

Special Programs Branch. (1996). Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects: A resource guide for teachers. Retrieved from