There are three major organizations in the U.K. who have successfully come up with new educational guidelines on how to handle children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). NOFAS-U.K., FASAware and FASD Trust came up with a framework that guides educators on how to handle children with FAS. These guidelines are hoped to improve the current educational curriculum and to provide higher quality education to FAS children.
Understanding Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), involves brain abnormalities, facial and cranial deformities and problems with growth and development. In the U.K. FAS is the most common cause of learning difficulties/disabilities. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a result of alcohol exposure during pregnancy; the exposure interferes with the normal fetal development thereby resulting in physical abnormalities. The physical abnormalities defining children with Fetal alcohol Syndrome include the following:
- Thin upper lip
- Indistinct philtrum
- Ear deformities
- A flat midface
- Epicanthal folds surrounding
- Small chin or micrognathia
- Presence of a low nasal bridge
- Thin upper lips
Fetal alcohol syndrome is also defined by abnormalities in the brain, thereby affecting memory, cognition, and learning. These problems often emerge as the child grows up and becomes and an adult.
Alcohol during pregnancy is the primary culprit for FAS; chronic alcohol consumption, and consumption of alcohol during the crucial stages of pregnancy greatly result in fetal alcohol syndrome. FAS is said to affect almost 1% of the child population in Western countries, with the statistics increasing in high risk populations (e.g. low income families, single mothers, and teenage mothers).
FAS is a challenge for educators as it requires a different approach and methodology. Understanding what fetal alcohol syndrome is; is itself a key step in employing effective teaching methodologies.
Challenging Behaviors of Children with FAS
Children with fetal alcohol syndrome behave differently from ordinary children. These children are observed to exhibit the following characteristics or behavior inside a classroom:
- Short span of attention
- Mood swings that are erratic
- Poor memory
- Retains instructions poorly
- Difficulties with numerical values and mathematics
- Lack of social skills
- Difficulties with coordination and sensorial functions
With the exhibited characteristics and behavior, learning indeed becomes a challenge for these children. More so, facilitating learning at the optimum level becomes an even more challenging task.
Tailoring Educational Strategies to Fit Learning Behaviors of FAS Children
The primary goal of educators in dealing with FAS children is to prevent the child from disengaging in the learning process. This entails careful assessment of the child’s behavior. A primary issue concerning the learning of FAS children is their erratic behavior and mood swings. To manage this, teachers are advised to plan activities which includes a core, a support and an extension activity. Core activities focus on the child’s central skills; support activities involve learning that promotes self-image and success through achievement. Extension activities reinforce the core activities in a different way.
This model can guide the teacher to facilitate learning based on the changes of the child’s mood. For example, if the child is distracted or emotionally unstable, teachers can employ support activities. If the child is engaged and the mood is calm, then extension activities can be used. Tailoring the activities to the child’s behavior or character can effectively facilitate the learning process.
With appropriate guidance and quality education, we can help FAS children cope with their condition effectively. The strategies are far from giving the children a normal childhood, but it gives them a sense that they are cared for and that they are not left out. We have to remember that every child indeed matters.
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