08 Sep

The condition affects people in different ways as the factors that cause it during pregnancy are so variable. Noon pregnancy is the same as another and therefore the characteristics of FASD varies from individual to individual too. This makes planning to support learners difficult.

FASD alters the way that the brain is structured and how neural pathways are linked. In the classroom the very essence of what we do is all about the brain and developing the neural pathways to draw down on what our students learn. Being affected by FASD can be a considerable barrier to learning, because the affected brain works in a different way. It does not have to be a barrier because it is not that those affected cannot learn but rather that they learn in a different way to their peers.

Working in schools it is worth reflecting on the fact that although we do not have hard and fast prevalence figures indications are that at least 6% of the population are affected to some degree. In the classroom this probably means that teachers and everyone working in education has already met and worked with more than one person whose learning has been affected by FASD. You were probably at school with some as well.

From my experience those affected students in my Virtual School for Looked After Children achieved the most where trusted adults in their schools could interpret and reimagine the educational journey that the child was on. Making learning accessible for them, by setting small manageable steps and recognising that their pupil may well stumble meant that they were able to achieve.

There are two messages for those in education, 1) children with FASD are different to any other type of pupil that you will come across and 2) Young people with FASD can and do achieve. Their learning environment and the lesson plans you use need to be adapted to meet their needs. The adults in the school need to strive to build strong working relationships so that they understand their affected pupil(s).

Only by understanding their pupils, what they can do and what they find difficult can adults in schools make the reasonable adjustments necessary for a student to achieve. These adjustments often are not huge, but the rewards can be great.

Those affected pupils and students will crave a clear and consistent approach and if this is achieved, they will be able to cope with in classrooms. Consistency is important as affected children often struggle with change or new experiences. However, new experiences are vital in developing learning. This means that change needs to be carefully managed.

Somethings like off-timetable days can be managed by carefully briefing the pupil and parents as well as checking and rechecking understanding. However, there will be numerous small changes in what happens that will not be apparent until it causes an issue. A year 2 pupil that I knew refused to talk to his classroom teacher for 4 weeks after she got married, because it hadn’t registered that she would change her surname, despite everything that primary school had done about weddings! There will be things that will occur out of the blue despite the best planning

Teaching an affected pupil takes patience and time, more time than you would expect. Learning does occur, but it is hard to even explain how long the damaged brain can take to process information. Your learner needs the time and space to reach their own conclusions and learn.

Be prepared to repeat key learning and over teach subjects. Your expectations of what they can do and how they can do it will be the key to success. You may have to change your expectation of that young person. This is not making excuses or accepting second best, but rather tailoring how you think to optimise what they do.

For the affected 12-year-old that lives with me, he is not being childish, but rather is a child functioning below his chronological age. He is not being lazy and not working; he processes information at a slow pace. He is not deliberately ignoring you; he can only focus on one thing at a time and when I spoke, I was not his focus. Its not that he does not care; at this point in time he struggles to understand his emotions and feelings. If you reframe your expectations of him then the way that you manage his learning and behaviour with alter as well and he will achieve more.

It’s often said that a rule of thumb might be to expect that a student with FASD is at a developmental or learning level roughly half their chronological age. Of course, it is not quite as simple as that.

With FASD the gap between the achievement of those affected and their peers seems to increase with age. There may not be a noticeable difference at nursery but in Key Stage 4 the difference may be apparent. Differences may be noticed at key transition stages in a school career, but this may reflect that the student needs different adjustments to cope with the change and achieve that were not apparent in an earlier phase.

Even if a student that you teach does not achieve the same expected level as their peers this does not mean that they won’t achieve. It takes longer than expected but the neural networks that learning builds can be constructed. Sadly, in too many cases the learning journey ceases with the statutory age for education, but with the child functioning at a much lower educational level.

Behaviours may well be different at home and at school and this can be confusing, but it is something that is very commonly reported. Sometimes it can almost seem that the parent or carer is describing a different child, but this is a real situation. At home, a child may struggle with learning situations that aren’t apparent in school. Parents may appear anxious themselves seeking interventions that are not as clear in your setting. They too need your understanding and support.

For many of these reasons many affected children may not register for assessment for an Education, Health & Care Plan (EHCP) until a large issue suddenly appears. However, with FASD it is essential to consider the whole presentation that someone who is affected makes. Developing an appropriate individual educational plan, which might include an EHCP is essential to provide the additional space, time, and resources that a young person needs.

A good plan will also inform everyone who meets the affected young person about the best approaches to take. In a large secondary it is important that the consistency discussed before is carried across the whole team of adults in the school if the child is going to achieve their potential.

 In conclusion your affected student needs you to make the reasonable adjustments that will allow them to understand their learning. You need to know and understand them well. You need to work in close collaboration with the parents and carers to ensure consistency stretches from school to home and vice versa. Where possible you need to collect evidence to secure appropriate support especially an EHCP. This plan can allow learning to continue post 18 to allow them the time that they need to achieve.

As Dr Raja Mukherjee tweeted in 2018, ‘its not about fixing the individual, its about facilitating them to perform optimally’. In the classroom, by creating the right learning environment that allows students affected by FASD to perform at their optimum you can and will change their lives for the better.

© Field of Enterprise 09-09-2020

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