Essentials: Understanding The Impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder On Student Behaviour

Essentials: Understanding The Impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder On Student Behaviour

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Have you ever wondered about the hidden challenges students with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) face in the classroom?

Join us in this Essentials episode where we investigate the science behind FASD, exploring its impact on behaviour and learning, and providing you with the essential strategies you will need to support affected students. Ready to create an inclusive learning environment for students with FASD? Discover the answers here!

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

FASD or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a condition that's estimated to affect as many children as autism. And it can lead to emotional and behaviour issues in the classroom. And it can look like other conditions like ADHD or ASC, but can be very difficult to identify. So how can we recognize and support children with the condition in school, you will find out in this week's essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets.

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another Essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where I share with you one important strategy or insight from an earlier episode that can have an impact for the students that you work with in your school or classroom. And in today's Essentials episode, my co host Emma Shackleton and I discuss FASD or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, how it affects a child's development. And we share with you some really important information about how you can support pupils affected by FASD in your classroom. So let's jump straight in to that conversation.

Emma Shackleton  1:46  

Let's have a look now then about how alcohol actually affects fetal development. Here's the science bit. So the alcohol that the mother drinks crosses the placenta and interferes with the development of the fetus. Because the fetus doesn't have a fully developed liver, it can't filter out the toxins like its mother can. And the result is that the toxins damage brain cells and the child's developing nervous system. 

Simon Currigan  2:14  

So as the brain cells are developing in the fetus, the alcohol kills them off. Or if those brain cells survive, once they have grown, those neurons move to the wrong part of the brain, which disrupts brain development. And when you see a brain scan of a child with FASD, what you'll often find is there appears to be like bookshop, there are lots of holes and gaps across the brain. This is areas where there should be brain cells and neurons. And that's going to affect the child's ability to engage in all sorts of aspects of life as they grow older. In short, the impact is it's brain damage. 

Emma Shackleton  2:49  

So alcohol interferes with development of the specific part of the brain called the frontal cortex. And most of the human frontal cortex is made up of the prefrontal cortex. This bit deals with executive functioning skills, so things like emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, and judgment, among others. 

Simon Currigan  3:13  

So let's think about what that means, then the parts of the brain that are supposed to be there to help manage those functions are actually at birth missing. It also interferes with the hippocampus, the part of the brain whose main function is related to memory and particularly long term memory. But that's not all. There were lots of other areas that can be affected. One of the key ones is the corpus callosum, which is the part of your brain that organizes the signals that pass from one side of the brain to the other. So it's a bit like a traffic policeman organizing how the messages from one side of the brain interacts with the other, making sure they get to the right place. If that signal finds it hard to get to the correct part of the brain on the other hemisphere, or gets cut off prematurely, or ends up going to the wrong place that can impact on how your brain functions and processes information. 

Emma Shackleton  4:04  

Thinking about what we've just said that and about those connections being interrupted, what would that look like in terms of behaviour in the classroom, as we've already said, FASD can affect different parts of the brain. So children with FASD will all present in their own unique way. But there are a set of behaviours that are linked to FASD conditions, and one of those is impulsive behaviours. So those children might do things like frequently calling out or interrupting or saying the first thing that pops into their head, often children with FASD might tell lies. They're not thinking through the implications of what they're saying. So a thought pops in they voice that thought without thinking of the consequences of that also, you're probably going to see in attention, so a real lack of ability to focus on one thing at a time or to maintain focus for any sustained period of time. So these are the children that you might see flitting from one activity to another, with quite a short concentration span or a short interest in each of those activities, there are also likely to be difficulties with language and communication, and also problems with absorbing information and retaining what they've learned. These are all key skills in building up learning, building the foundations for learning. And often children with FASD have difficulties with organization and understanding the passage of time. 

Simon Currigan  5:39  

Related to what Emma said already, there's difficulty learning from experience. So we've touched on being able to absorb information and retain it, but also learn from experience in terms of social situations in terms of learning from my behaviour. If I do behaviour x, it results in y, that means we're going to have to do lots of over learning and not assuming that children have picked up learning experiences. Just because they could do it in a lesson on Monday doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be able to do it on a lesson on Tuesday. But also you see issues around emotional regulation, and social interaction. You might be listening to this and thinking this sounds very familiar. And in some aspects, the symptoms that children with FASD often present are very similar to the issues faced by children with autism, or ADHD or attachment or other conditions of a similar real.

Emma Shackleton  6:28  

And this is the problem, isn't it. So many of those conditions have got overlapping symptoms, and that's why it can be so difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. And there is a common myth to dispel here. Actually, it is commonly believed that FASD affects facial development, leading to a thin upper lip, a smooth philtrum and small eye openings. This is sometimes the case. But in reality, those facial features are only present in one in 10 children with the disorder and it really depends on what stage in the pregnancy the mother was drinking. So FASD may often get misdiagnosed as ASD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is often referred to as the hidden disability. 

Simon Currigan  7:18  

So when we're thinking about strategies, how we can support these children in the classroom, what we have to bear in mind is because that brain damage varies from child to child, the pupils needs are going to be individual to the specific child, and the program of support that we need to put in place is going to be based around their specific individual needs. So this means doing assessments looking at their individual needs, and then putting in a mixture of support strategies that are specific to them. Often those support strategies will look like a mixture of autism and ADHD support strategies, with lots of overlearning to support with retention over time. 

And that's all we've got time for on this essentials episode, where Emma and I have shared some key facts and information with you about FASD. And of course, apart from FASD, there are many other causes of challenging classroom behaviour as well. So if you're working with children with challenging behaviour, and you're not sure why they're acting that way, we've got a download that can help you. It's called the SEND behaviour handbook. And it will help you link behaviours that you're seeing in your classroom with possible underlying causes like autism or ADHD. The idea here isn't for teachers to try and make a diagnosis because we're not qualified to do that. But if we can link behaviours to possible causes quickly, it means we can get the right help in place and get early intervention strategies in place to support the children. And it also includes a fact sheet all about FASD for you to print. It's a free download, go to UK, click on the free resources tab, and you'll find a download for the handbook near the top. I'll also put a direct link for you to click through in the episode description. And if you'd like to know more about the myths and misconceptions surrounding FASD, and the surprising facts and figures relating to this condition, do please pop back to the original episode. That's episode number 31. And I'll put a direct link to that in the show notes as well. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do it prompts the algorithm to recommend school behaviour secrets to other listeners. And that will help us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents who would benefit from this information. And while you've got your podcast app open, please remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thank you for listening today and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)