The Chronicle of Social Change is featuring a five-part series on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) from Helen Ramaglia, an advocate for foster youth and a member of our Blogger Co-Op. Click here to read Part 1, here to read Part 2, and here to read Part 3.
Individuals with FASD may have problems that affect learning and behavior. Therefore, it is important that we understand how alcohol impacts neurodevelopment throughout the lifespan of individuals affected.
What is Neurodevelopment? This is growth and change over time that depends on the brain and other parts of the nervous system. When we talk about neuro-development, we are talking about motor skills, language, thinking and learning (which we call ‘cognition’), as well as social development and behavior.
All of these areas depend on the brain and how it works, and prenatal exposure to alcohol can change the way the brain grows and develops. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s FASD Center, changes in the brain can influence all of these developmental outcomes:
• Motor skills and motor development.
• Poor muscle tone and weak grasp.
• Poorly developed gross motor skills.
• Coordination problems often with eye-hand coordination
• Motor problems such as deficits in balance, tremors, abnormal gait & right/left hand dominance confusion.
Children with FASD often struggle with cognitive disabilities because of alcohol’s impact on the brain. Cognition is a term used to describe the high mental processes (executive functioning), and children with FASDs can struggle with the following aspects of it:
• Visual-spatial skills
According to Minnesota Adopt, children and adolescents with FASD act in ways that seem inappropriate to their age, but in actuality are acting within their developmental age. Educators and parents need to review the child’s behavior within the context of the FASD diagnosis. Many of these behaviors continue into adulthood, including:
• Failure to understand verbal directions.
• Repeating the same mistakes in what seems like defiance, when actually the person can’t recall what was learned yesterday or a year ago.
• Squirmy and intent on bothering others
Methods that work with other children to help them “act their age” won’t always work with FASD children, who take longer to grow up and require alternative behavior management, parenting skills, and teaching methods. A rule of thumb for parents and teachers is to “think younger” when a child or adolescent seems unable to complete tasks or displays inappropriate behaviors.
When working with your child, you need to keep in mind that he or she may need additional time for recall. Always use the ten-second-rule: Count to ten before you move on with a new question or supply the answer yourself.
The most important thing to remember when teaching a child with an FASD is that the child has the capability to learn. Educators must work hard to find ways to assist the child with an FASD in discovering what helps him or her to learn and ways to enjoy the learning process. This process is different for each child, and typically changes as the child ages.
Educators must assist children with an FASD in becoming prepared for living the rest of their lives and working to their potential. These students have many strengths and talents as well.
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.
Want to share your opinion or analysis with colleagues in the youth services field? Join our one-of-a-kind Blogger Co-Op, and share in the benefits from your work!
Emory University: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Educational Strategies
University of South Dakota: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Educational Strategies Handbook
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration FASD Center: Evidence-Based Interventions
Minnesota Adopt: 33 FASD Strategies and Intervention