Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

By Caroline Cave


  • Caused by the consumption of alcohol by a woman when pregnant
  • Is known to cause a wide range of mental and physical defects
  • Is 100% preventable
  • Some parents/carers ‘make do’ with a diagnosis of autism or ADHD in order to be able to access specialised help and programs
  • FAS is often called a “hidden” disability because its physical characteristics can be subtle and may go unrecognised.

Effect of alcohol on an egg - TeacherTube

Physical Characteristics



Mental characteristics

  • Hyperactive behaviour
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental disabilities (e.g. speech and language delays)
  • Mental retardation or low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgement skills
  • Inconsistent or spotty memory
  • Poor abstract thinking
  • Impulsive and difficulty learning from mistakes
  • Temper tantrum and difficulty with self control (not appropriate for age)

Some behaviours related to FAS

  • Non compliance
  • Repeatedly making the same mistake
  • Often late
  • Not sitting still
  • Poor social judgement
  • Overly physical
  • Does not work independently

Working with Families

The Invisible Children and Families of FASD - YouTube link. Documentary in 6 parts.

Part 4 - School

  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Take time to listen
  • Honour feelings
  • Avoid making assumptions
  • Ask for their help in what has and has not worked previously
  • Remember the main carers will know the child better than you

Strategies for Teachers

  • Teach the student to use “self-talk”
  • Use concrete reinforcements or reminders
  • Consequences for inappropriate behaviour need to be immediate and consistent.
  • Arrange a quiet area in the classroom
  • Make each activity brief.
  • Ask the student for feedback
  • Anticipate and prevent problems through close supervision or partnering with peers
  • Consider the student’s verbal and memory limitations


  • Memory can fail at the level of the sensory register (information is not attended to or perceived accurately), storage (short-term or long-term memory strategies are not used effectively to remember), or retrieval (the information is recorded, but cannot be retrieved).
  • A student with FAS can forget something they learned the previous day.
  • This can cause dangerous situations – e.g. running out onto the road without looking first.


  • Develop a routine and stick to it
  • Provide one instruction at a time
  • Colour coding
  • Keep the classroom organised
  • Aim for over-learning
  • Supervise closely when there is a chance the child may harm themselves
  • Use visual aids
  • Write verbal instructions on the board
  • Playing memory game
  • Avoid using abstracts

Attention and Over-sensitivity to stimuli

  • Many children with FAS are over-sensitive to external stimuli and can be easily distracted.
  • These children will have difficulty staying on task and completing tasks.

Case study of child with FAS: (O'Malley, 2007)
Problems in tactile, auditory, oral and visual sensations which included:
  • Disliking his hair being washed because water scares him
  • Overly sensitive to all sounds, in house or out of house
  • Avoids foods with certain textures such as rice, potato
  • Easily distracted by visual stimuli


  • Keep classroom decorations to a minimum
  • Find a way of adjusting the brightness of lighting
  • Allow the child to remove themselves from a situation
  • Avoid clutter
  • Establish a signal to indicate frustration.
  • Find out how the child calms themselves at home
  • Allow for the need of physical stimulation with a something to touch at the desk

Social skills

  • Children with FAS are often socially immature compared to their peers
  • Their difficulties with attention and impulse control can have affect relationships with peers.
  • They can have trouble interpreting social cues and can misinterpret emotions.

Activity - The Body Picture

(Davis, 1994, pg 74)

Appropriate for ages 4 to adult.
Materials needed: Paper and coloured pens or crayons.
Goal: To help the child identify her feelings.
Follow-up: Discuss the child's feelings with her and ways she can learn to accept and manage them.

Another technique that helps with understanding how the child with FAS/E feels is to draw the outline of a body (like a gingerbread man). Then have her choose four marking pens of different colours. Assign a colour to four feelings: happy, angry, sad, scared. Then instruct her to fill in the body with the different colours so that you will know 'how much of her' is happy, sad. angry and afraid.

In Conclusion

"The child who has been prenatally exposed to alcohol has the right to honest, diagnostic information that has not been corrupted by ego, social stigma or ignorance by our health professionals. Individuals with FASD and their families have the right to specifically targeted integrated support services implemented by professionals who have a sound understanding of the complex needs of children/adolescents and adults who have this (lifelong) disability."
-The National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders Inc.

Online resources and articles

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - A Resource Guide for Teachers. Prepared by Special Programs Branch 1996. British Columbia Ministry of Education
NOFASARD -The National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders Inc. (NOFASARD) was established and incorporated in Adelaide in 1998.
UNSW Embryology - Medical information on FAS and related links and resources.
FASD Centre for Excellence - The FASD Center is a Federal initiative devoted to preventing and treating FASD. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: probing the label - ABC Radio program, "All In The Mind" from 6 September, 2008.
Rural Health Education Foundation - Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Originally established in 1992, the Rural Health Education Foundation is a not-for profit organisation which works to improve the health and well-being of rural and remote Australians.

Text References

Davis, D. (1994). Reaching Out to Children with FAS/FAE. The Center For Applied Research in Education: New York.

O’Malley, K. (2007). ADHD and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): Infant, Toddler, and Young Child Systems of Care for Patients with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and Their Families. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Westwood, P. (2009) What Teachers Need to Know About Students with Disabilities. ACER Press.