Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can be understood as a range of congenital birth abnormalities along a spectrum, caused by prenatal alcohol exposure (Carpenter, 2011). Further, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder has been described as the “Hidden Disability”, due to physical characteristics not always being present (Millar et al, 2014:3).
Throughout pregnancy, the central nervous system of the foetus, is extremely sensitive to the teratogenic effects of alcohol. If a foetus is exposed to alcohol there can be major implications on the wellbeing of the baby. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can be the most identifiable within the spectrum of disorders, as individuals with FAS hold distinctive facial abnormalities such as thin upper lip, epicanthal folds, indistinct philtrum and flat nasal bridge (Blackburn and Whitehurst, 2010:124). FASD is now one of the largest most ubiquitous, non-genetic and preventable classifications of disability (May & Gossage, 2001).
Teaching Pupils with FASD
Teaching pupils with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can be challenging, The neurological condition hinders children through deficits in behaviour, emotions, cognition and physical health (McDougall et al., 2019). Wilhoit, Scott, and Simecka (2017) concur that FASD impacts learners social skills and capacity to withstand positive relationships, which is vital for mutually beneficial and effective learning. According to Dann (2019), successful learning requires strong and positive relational functioning. To support this, Reeves and Le Mare (2017) state it is difficult to achieve learning and outcomes without relational participation. Overall, this suggests that FASD has adverse effects on relational functioning and learning processes, which can impact teaching.
Current research on teaching children with FASD reveals that the condition holds universal importance and is associated with negative experiences among learners and teachers. Deficits in motor skills, emotional and behavioral difficulties, delay in language and speech, social skills, executive dysfunction, as well as learning and intellectual disabilities hugely impact effective learning and teaching.
Further, as Wilhoit, Scott, and Simecka (2017) reiterate, learners with FASD require additional educational support due to short-term memory, attention deficit, challenged motor coordination, distractibility and being over-reactive. Educators may find it challenging to teach children with FASD. The condition can lead to learners being disruptive, difficult to manage and uncooperative (Hutton, 2021). Thus, there is a requirement for teachers to develop high levels of competency. This enables them to find effective strategies and practices to support FASD learners.
Challenges of Providing Effective Learning and Teaching to Pupils with FASD
The challenges of providing effective learning and teaching for learners with FASD has attracted the attention of many researchers. Teachers experience many challenges in educating learners with special educational needs. Particularly in an inclusive learning environment.
One issue that can hinder an effective learning environment for pupils with FASD can be the expectations set upon teachers. Although inclusive education is effective in helping meet the needs of learners with disabilities. Teachers are on many occasions not ready to overcome the associated challenges.
Parents and administrators assume that educators can handle learners with different disabilities, such as FASD in a mainstream school or classroom environment. These assumptions can expose educators to a wide range of difficulties. These include a lack of necessary support and pedagogical expertise needed to meet the needs of children with FASD.
Lack of both experiential and practical knowledge about FASD is also a significant hindrance to the provision of effective learning and teaching. Teachers who have sound experiential and practical knowledge, have a positive attitude. They also show compassion are able to form positive relationships with FASD learners. Furthermore, the study conducted by Schalkwyk and Marais (2017) showed teachers with lack of knowledge and awareness portrayed the opposite.
Strategies to Support Learners with FASD
Many peculiar traits resulting from FASD are growing concerns in an inclusive learning environment. Thus, the need for interventional strategies to cope and address the challenges resulting from the condition is imperative. Several studies including a systematic review conducted by Peadon et al. (2009) gives recommendations that can help improve learning among pupils with FASD. Some of the interventions that we can consider for FASD learners. These include rehearsal training, mathematic training, literacy therapy, language therapy, the use of cognitive behavior therapy and virtual reality training.
A key strength of the Peadon et al. (2009) study is based on providing strong evidence by summarising and critiquing existing literature. Contrary to Peadon et al. (2019) other studies, including Blackburn, Carpenter and Egerton (2010), recommend specific strategies for supporting FASD learners.
Equipping teachers and enhancing their competence is also an important strategy that should be acknowledged. Schalkwyk and Marais (2017) support this by highlighting the importance of ensuring that educators have unique competencies and awareness regarding FASD, which is key to providing the utmost support.