Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Share This Article: On Twitter On Facebook Print

If you are a classroom teacher who, for the first time, is about to teach a student with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAS/E), this guide can be helpful. Many of the strategies are general and may be appropriate for use with students who are not diagnosed with FAS/E, but who do share some of the learning needs of students with FAS/E. Its goal is to provide teachers with a clear understanding of the needs of students with FAS/E by:

Initial feelings of concern, anxiety, frustration or uncertainty often accompany the news that you will be teaching a student whose particular needs are unfamiliar to you. In the case of children with FAS/E, information and assistance are available to you, and these students will often come to you with a support system already in place.



Common areas of concern in the classroom:

Distractibility - Easily frustrated - poor fine and gross motor skills - poor attention - lack of organizational skills - problems with concrete thinking - poor peer relations


FAS/FASD students are persons with some degree of brain damage.

Children with FAS/FASD may have trouble expressing themselves. Be aware of their body language and know the warning signs for frustration, sadness, anger and other potentially hurtful emotions.

Concepts that may be problematic include decision-making, time, impulsiveness and distinguishing between public and private behaviors.

Memory tasks are difficult. Children with FAS/FASD may not be able to generalize information they have learned from one day to the next. It is important to make eye contact (unless this produces anxiety), repeat things and use short instructions.

Math skills are difficult. Most students do not advance beyond a second- or third-grade level.

Be prepared for inconsistent performance, frustration with transitions and the need for individual attention.

Many children experience sensory integration problems. Crowds, holding hands, hugs, certain textiles and tags in clothes or seams in socks may induce sensitivity.

Strategies for Teachers

Place the child near the front of the room for the whole year to help him or her focus.

Allow the student to have short breaks when necessary.

Create borders around children with FAS/FASD such as armrests, footrests and beanbag chairs. This helps them feel more secure and calms them.

Before the bell rings to go home, stop the activity and give them enough time to prepare to exit the classroom.

Have them perform one task at a time. To make sure they understand, have them repeat the instructions. If the activity is brand new, walk through it with them first. As children grow older, assignments will become longer and more difficult. For longer projects, giving them deadlines for sections and checking on their progress is helpful.

Taking notes can be difficult and may create a distraction as the child may focus more on writing than the context of the lecture. Provide them with a copy of the teacher's or another student's notes. Because their handwriting is often poor, a computer may be a better way for them to complete their assignments.

Behavior problems become more apparent as children enter grade school. Often, a slight bump from a fellow student feels like a push to someone with FAS/FASD. This may result in an outburst or fight. Punishment is not always the best answer since FAS/FASD children may not understand why they are being punished. Try defusing the situation as calmly as possible and moving into a new activity.

Using visuals, concrete examples and hands-on learning makes school easier. If one technique is not successful, try something new. Children with FAS/FASD can learn-they just need to use different paths to get there.

Encourage success and reward positive behavior with praise or incentives. Positive reinforcement should be immediate.

Middle school students with FAS/FASD should shift academic learning to daily living and vocational skills.


From 1989 - 1996 Dr. Turben was Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at John Carroll University. In addition to teaching Teach Education and Early Childhood-Special Education courses, she supervised masters and post-baccalaureate programs that lead to the PreK, Kindergarten, and Early Education of Handicapped Children validations. She has done research concerning the effectiveness of home visits, the importance of neighborhoods as social structures and parent involvement in schools.
Ask Dr. Susan