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Submitted by: Judy Kay, on behalf of F.A.S.I.N. (Fetal Alcohol
Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are unique and have strengths and gifts along with their challenges. Depending where they are on the spectrum they may encounter varying degrees of physical, mental, behavioral and learning disabilities. The disabilities caused by FASD are present at birth but are often not identified until later in life.
FASD is a brain-based disability that impacts thinking. Individuals have difficulty with: memory, anticipating consequences, adapting to new situations, solving problems and with planning and organizing. They may have difficulty understanding social cues. Behavioral and social problems resulting from FASD can easily be misunderstood and therefore mistreated and can put the student at heightened risk for poor school performance, and disrupted school experience.
The key to supporting students with FASD is early identification, diagnosis and providing the support the child needs to be successful. It is very important to adjust parenting and teaching styles to match the needs of the children. For instance, children with FASD learn best in quiet places. They need a routine that seldom changes. Children with FASD do best with structure, consistency, repetition, reminders and supervision. They need to feel they belong and that they are valued. Informed teachers, professionals, parents and caregivers can better support strengths of individuals with FASD. Students affected by FASD need the school, the home and community supports to work together to create a safe, supportive environment for them to thrive.
There are few school based programs specifically designed to support children with FASD. One exception is a newly established program in the Keewatin Patricia School Board, based in Northwestern Ontario, called Transitions North. The Transitions North program offers a range of academic and social/emotional support, following the Ontario Curriculum Guidelines along with alternative programming. All students are integrated into regular day school classrooms and are provided with hands-on, strength-based learning opportunities. Parents of participants say it is a source of support for families. The staff engages families in the program, helps connect caregivers to resources in the community and offers unconditional support when a child is struggling. The goal of the program is to create a student environment that is flexible enough to meet complex needs, close academic achievement gaps, and support students to develop healthy social and relationship skills.
Although not all schools and school boards will have a specially designed program such as the Transitions North program, we can all work towards developing approaches that support students who are affected by FASD. We can look to these programs to provide guidance around best practices, new ideas and approaches that will better support students with FASD. Responding effectively to the needs of children and families living with FASD requires us all to work together.