Every Student with FASD is an Individual
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Every Student with FASD is an Individual

The severity and type of damage sustained by the fetus appears to be dependent on a complex range of intersecting factors. No two students with FASD are the same and this makes it more difficult for educators to recognize students with the disorder. Only a minority of students with FASD have any identifiable physical characteristics or physical birth defects caused by the FASD. Most show only brain-based behaviours that interfere with fitting into a classroom and the serious but mystifying cognitive irregularities characteristic of the brain damage of FASD

Students with FASD are not all the same.

There is more variability than communality in students with diagnosed or suspected FASD. Many people think that in order to have FASD a student must have certain facial characteristics or behave in a certain way. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only real constant in FASD is the permanent brain damage which results in a range of cognitive difficulties and a range of behaviours that do not respond to behaviour modification. If you have tried everything to be successful with a student and nothing works there is a good possibility that you are dealing with brain damage from PAE or, in other words, FASD.

The actual damage sustained by a fetus in pregnancy depends on a host of intersecting factors such as the amount and timing of alcohol consumption, the genetic heritage of the child, and the nutritional and stress status of the mother. These vary with every pregnancy so expecting every child with FASD to show the same characteristics is wrong.  This, of course, means that each child with FASD needs to have supports and interventions that support his or her specific needs.  A Vineland or ABAS test may help a school determine these specific needs. In addition these tests will point to the range of talents and aptitudes that all students with FASD possess and which educators should build on to be successful with that child.

Individuality in students with FASD is often connected to which parts of the embryo or fetus were developing at the various times when alcohol was consumed by the mother. The following table illustrates which organs or physical features are most at risk to damage from any teratogen throughout the pregnancy.  Keep in mind that alcohol is a teratogen which means it can cause birth defects but it is also a potent neurotoxin which affects the developing brain causing behavioural and cognitive deficits.

Red = Times of Greatest Danger of Damage to that Organ or Body Part

Yellow = Times of Less Danger of Damage to that Organ or Body Part

Order of Bars from Top to Bottom:

Brain & CNS, Heart, Arms, Eyes, Legs, Teeth, Palate, External Genitalia, Ears

Alcohol And The  Developing  Fetus

Respectful Person-First Language

To be successful with FASD it is important to always use person-first language. This respects the individuality of a person with FASD, builds self-esteem and prevents FASD from defining a child.  So we always say, “John has FASD or is a student with FASD”.  It is never acceptable to refer to a child as a FASD child or even worse (and sadly quite common) a FASSY kid!  We also would not refer to FASD classrooms or FASD families.  These are classrooms for students with FASD and families with members who have FASD.

If you are having trouble switching over to using person-first language think of how you would describe a friend with a serious disease – you would never say, “my cancer friend” when “my friend with cancer” is the respectful and proper way to do this. 

Many students with FASD have internalized the idea that they ARE a problem when in reality they HAVE a problem. Person-first language helps repair the damage done and helps students realize that they have a problem and you are going to help support them. This can bring them immense relief.

At the same time it is wise to never refer to students with FASD as “suffering from” or “afflicted with” FASD.  In the same vein they are not “victims of FASD”.  This kind of language tends to make the child with FASD feel really hopeless and not in control.  These children have FASD and we are helping to support them!

Developmental Resource Centre Waterloo RegionSunbeam Centre