Newsletter 171 - Learners with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

The next four newsletters will focus on research done on children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). The articles will look at the learning disabilities and the demand this place on teachers and the education system. The areas covered is firstly general articles about the syndrome in international context, secondly FAS in the Northern Cape and lastly FAS in the Western Cape.

“Active Learning: Bridging the Gap for Fetal Alcohol Effect Children” by Debbie Evensen Fall (1991) -

This is an adapted summary of Debbie’s article mostly in her own voice.

Professionals are deeply concerned about the educational implication of prenatally alcohol/drug exposed children. At a recent community support group for teachers and other professionals working with children with Fetal Alcohol the frustration level was obvious. Teachers shared feelings of being overwhelmed, not only with the sheer numbers of these students entering their classrooms, but also with the ineffectiveness of traditional techniques in teaching these children.

The learners with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome demonstrate a wide variety of deficits, depending on the period of fetal brain development when the alcohol or drugs were ingested. A review of the literature shows that only the most severely affected children are discussed, while the other 80%, many undiagnosed, are at-risk for developing significant school problems. The need for long-term planning is obvious.

Behaviors and specific sites of alcohol caused brain damage have been correlated: hippocampal damage has been implicated in learning and memory deficits, and dam- age to the cerebellum may affect motor control. FAS children have severe information processing deficits, which mean that the connecting link between taking in the information and the subsequent action is defective.

Therefore, FAS children may have learning disabilities in the following four domains:

  • 1. input (recording of information from the senses)
  • 2. integration (process of interpreting the input)
  • 3. memory (storage of information for later use)
  • 4. output (answer, response, completed task, etc.) This requires appropriate use of language and motor skills. FAS children have a language dysfunction. They may be highly verbal, but cannot translate the. words into action.

Effective Techniques:

Traditional teaching techniques assume that with minimal assistance the child is capable of taking in verbal instructions, processing the information, remembering what is expected and completing the assigned tasks. This can be an impossible task for the FAS child without extensive assistance and learning methods that bridge the information processing gap.

Techniques that incorporate multi-sensory, whole brain strategies into daily academic instruction are modalities of learning that have been successful, and are helping to bridge this gap for FAS learners. The following is a summary of some of these techniques:

  1. Set the stage for learning with the teaching of relaxation. FAS learners are easily over stimulated and frustrated. They can be taught how to relax and avoid "shutdown."
  2. Use visual cues, simple terms and concrete language when giving oral directions. Remember the "K.I.S.S." method. (Keep It Short and Simple)
  3. Use music and rhyme as teaching strategies. Not only do FAS learners enjoy music, but it facilitates both memory and retrieval of information. Any fact or rule can be put to music, a rap or a simple limerick or rhyme to facilitate input, integration and retrieval from long-term memory.
  4. Incorporate kinesthetic activities as an integral part of the teaching process. Movement facilitates learning. Example: jumping rope to jingles to learn math facts. Practice oral spelling words with cheer leading or drumming activities.
  5. Integrate new concepts with information the learner already understands, helping to build networks of knowledge from which the student can begin to organize her/his world. Use examples from the learner’s daily life when teaching math or language.
  6. Use "scripting" throughout the school curriculum. Short, easy to read teacher written plays can be used to teach any subject, and can help the child generalize information to the outside world. Practice social skills with scripts designed to specific situations. Teach history events with written scripts involving the historical figures being studied.
  7. Use the visual mode of learning as much as possible. Use class
  8. Made videotapes to teach. As an example, videotape sequencing activities (what to do when you first get to school in the morning) and allow the children to watch them over and over. The repetition will increase learning and they will love watching themselves doing it right! Use/ draw pictures to aid the understanding of a concept.
  9. Allow the child to draw a picture to explain what (she is feeling- Draw pictures along with the rules for the classroom.

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