Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - Cause and Effect Thinking

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Teachers and parents report that children with FAS/E make the same mistakes over and over no matter how many times they are corrected and given consequences. On the positive side, each day is a new beginning for children with FAS/E. Such children seem to have difficulty connecting cause and effect and changing behavior as a result of consequences. This does not mean that imposing consequences is useless, but parents and teachers may need to make extra efforts to apply consequences consistently and immediately, with frequent, patient reminders of the reasons for them.

Why is there such a problem perceiving consequences? There are a number of possible reasons. First, the behavior is often impulsive: children with FAS/E simply do not think about the possibility of a consequence, or the implications of their action. Certain rewards or consequences are often effective in the beginning, but then lose their effectiveness.

Second, consequences are often uncertain. They are used to prevent an outcome that may happen: “If you throw a snowball somebody might get hurt.” “Do not run out in front of traffic because you might get hit.” There are many times (fortunately) when dangerous behavior does not have a consequence, or at least a natural consequence. Nobody gets hurt. The child runs out in the street in front of the truck and does not get hit. At times, it seems that it is not enough to warn children with FAS/E about what might happen; they need to experiment and find out for themselves. This can lead to serious outcomes.

Third, situations are never exactly the same. Children with FAS/E may not generalize from the behavior in one setting to the same or similar behavior in another setting. Sometimes such children generalize too well: instead of remembering the rule, they remember the one-time-only exception to the rule. Students with FAS/E often have a very rigid and egocentric notion of what is fair.

Cause and Effect Thinking
A Student with FAS/E may experience difficulty with:

  • Understanding consequences and what they are for
  • Generalizing behavior from one setting to another
  • Predicting outcomes of different behaviors in new settings, and/or
  • Working within a rigid and egocentric notion of what is fair



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.
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