Ko Ngā Whakataunga Mā Te Whānau, Kaitiaki Hoki | Caregiver & Whānau Support

If you suspect your child has been exposed to alcohol while in the womb and you have observed developmental or behavioural issues; or if you have had a positive diagnosis of FASD for your tamariki, we are here for you.

If you are a birth parent, we are fully committed to non-judgmental support and advice – almost all of our board members and staff have lived experience of parenting tamariki with FASD.

Connecting and informing are our main roles, but many of our activities – such as training for caregivers and whānau, are developing. Watch this space. 

 

Whakapakeketia tamariki FASD Parenting a child with FASD

It can be very tough being a parent or caregiver of an individual with FASD.

You need to become your child's PA/coach and mentor and it can feel like a 24/7 job. To keep yourself sane and able to stay on the job, self-care is extremely important. If possible you will need as much backup as you can get, and have opportunities for respite. Here are some common scenarios with ideas to make things a little bit easier.

Common Issues

Communicating patiently and effectively with your FASD child can make the difference between getting out the door for school, avoiding meltdown (theirs or your own) and generally keeping the peace. Some useful phrases for your own internal dialogue include: 

“Can’t not won’t.”
Remember that FASD is caused by brain damage.

“Ten-second kids in a one-second world.
People with FASD need more time than others to process and understand.

“Gravel roads, not highways.”
Atypical neural pathways associated with FASD are easily disrupted.

“Brain, not blame.”
If you find yourself making unhelpful judgements, remember this phrase.

Adapt the environment, not the person.”
Safe, supportive environments are key for people with FASD to thrive.

“Short, simple, specific, slow.”
Effective communication is essential for people with FASD who won't get sarcasm, irony or often, jokes. Getting them to repeat instructions is also encouraged.

Everyone knows that getting enough sleep can be a huge part of our effectiveness, functionality and mood!

But for individuals with FASD, sleep disorders are a specific problem. Lack of good sleep means that behavioural issues are elevated. Around 80% of parents and carers of children with FASD say their children have problem with sleep. These can include: 

  • Frequently waking up at night
  • Feeling scared at night 
  • Sleep walking
  • Problems settling 
  • Problems waking 
  • Problems understanding the concept of bedtime
  • Melatonin or sensory issues

It's a big subject, but there are plenty of great tips: avoiding pre-bed excitement and setting up very solid routines is essential. Creating a calm quiet bedroom with low stimulus (no clutter), ear plugs or headphones, heavy blankets, no screen time and calming music can also be helpful.

Over 2020 there was a PhD project done in at University College London on sleep in children with FASD - the largest study to date. The three key findings were: 

• a significant proportion of anxiety can be predicted by sleep problems. This is true for both typically developing (TD) and FASD populations.

• children with FASD experienced significantly higher levels of sleep problems and anxiety than TD children, the majority at clinical levels.

• sleep interventions should be a clinical priority for children with FASD.

Find the FASD Sleep Project here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children with FASD may show signs of being hyper-sensitive (feelings things too much) or hypo-sensitive (not feeling things enough) to the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. It can be very handy to have noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses and a fidget toy on hand.

When getting to school can be derailed for the day by a scratchy jumper, or a fight breaks out because of loud noises, it's important to anticipate sensory overload scenarios before they happen. 

For an excellent introduction to initialising heavy work to help with sensory self-regulation, check out the award-winning, UK-based Griffin Occupational Therapy, who specialise in sensory processing. 

There's more information on a handy tip sheet here

'Heavy work' for sensory processing

Everybody is born with an internal sense of body awareness known as 'proprioception' which is initialised via messages sent to our brain from our muscle and joint receptors. Sometimes people affected with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder have sensory processing difficulties which means that their central nervous system is trying to figure out a way of linking their brain to receptors. Recent research shows that getting kids to do 'heavy work' can focus and calm them in many different ways.

For a downloadable worksheet about initialising 'heavy work' click here

 

 


If you are in immediate danger ring 111. If unable to speak, press 55.

Let them know that your child has a neuro-disability. It's essential to keep yourself safe.

 

Child to parent violence (CPV) is a frequently hidden issue which arises in families with an individual with FASD. It is a complex issue which continues to be misunderstood and minimised outside of the family home. If you are experiencing CPV please be assured that it is not due to poor parenting – it can be because the young person in your care is struggling to regulate and/or make sense of their emotions. This can result in a need to dominate, coerce, and gain control over their parents/caregivers. 

Displays of aggression and violence by children/adolescents towards adults that are intended to threaten and intimidate and put family safety at risk can include: 

  • Making threats 
  • Exhibiting uncontrolled rage (this is dysregulated behaviour where there is a risk of harm to others) 
  • Verbal abuse -yelling, screaming swearing, name calling, making intimidating comments  
  • Physical - hitting, kicking, punching, biting, throwing objects or using objects as a weapon to intimidate or harm, breaking family property, hurting pets, pushing, blocking. 
  • Playing mind games – manipulating, controlling, gaslighting, threatening to run away, self-harming, confabulating. 
  • Sexual – penetration, touching, exposing themselves, sexual innuendos.  
  • Financial – stealing, using credit cards, coercing money from caregivers. 

People experiencing CPV report that they are always in a state of hypervigilance and feel like they are walking on eggshells waiting for the next explosion. Some of the common mental health effects of family violence are PTSD, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and fear of the future. 

 

CPV Webinars

NoFASD Australia have produced a webinar series called Child and adolescent to parent/carer violence and abuse presented by University of Otago Professor, Anita Gibbs, a registered social worker who has taught social work, sociology and criminology courses for 20 years. Her research interests include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and complex disabilities, especially identifying best practice in helping families and best evidence for professionals in their interventions with families.

These webinars look at the issue of CPV and the impact that it has on family members, how professionals respond and strategies that may help to reduce the family distress. Click here to go to the first webinar, and here for the second.

 

Where to go to for help 

If you are in immediate danger ring 111. If unable to speak, press 55. Let them know that your child has a neuro-disability.
It's essential to keep yourself safe in order to be there for your child in the future.

Shine Family Violence Agency is a National organisation offering a free helpline, training, and consultancy throughout New Zealand.
Call 0508 744 633 for 24/7 help and counselling. 

If you are in crisis or feeling suicidal, please reach out to Lifeline Aotearoa Inc on 0800 543 354.

 

 

There is much international information on FASD medication online – it's a very big subject however, and we are currently working on some basic guidelines for Aotearoa NZ.

However, in October 2022 we ran a webinar entitled 'Focus on Health: The Clinician's Perspective', in which medication is outlined by two experts from Taranaki. Watch it on our post-webinar recordings page here

Looking after yourself

Being a parent or caregiver of tamariki with FASD can be a great experience, but it is also tiring and challenging. Whānau who have children with FASD are often under a great deal of stress. 

It's very important to look after yourself so that you're in the best possible place to be able to stop and think about options. This will not always be possible however, even with the best of intentions, so don't beat yourself up if you can't always respond in the way you wish you could! 

 

 

Here are a few ideas to help keep you on track.

  • Parenting an FASD individual can be isolating. Parents of neurotypical children often don’t understand the issues you face every day. Find someone to talk to who understands what it’s like. This could be a whānau member who is close to you, or another parent of a child with FASD. It can be very helpful to join a local support group. Find a list of groups available in Aotearoa here.

  • All parents have dreams for their kids. It may be hard for parents of tamariki with FASD to deal with disappointment or guilt. A counsellor, elder or possibly religious leader may be able to help you.

  • Think about what helps you to relax and make a real effort to do it every day or at least every week. Have coffee with a friend, go for a walk, a run or to the gym, find a creative outlet, take a long bath with the bathroom door locked, go out with your partner, attend a support group, hire a babysitter or share and swap childcare.

  • Sometimes, the only place your children can truly shine is in their own home. Let them be at home a lot and don’t feel bad about celebrating holidays and birthdays at home where they feel safe and comfortable.

  • Many children with FASD become very stressed when the family leaves home to go on holidays. It can be hard for them – and for everyone – to leave a familiar area and routine or stay in a strange hotel room. If you do decide to go away, plan carefully ahead and involve your tamariki in discussions about what to expect.

  • If at all possible, arrange for regular respite breaks for you and/or your partner, even if just for a ‘date night’. Hire a babysitter or respite worker who understands your child, and train him or her about FASD and the importance of routine.

  • Take time to laugh. Watch a funny movie or video. Think about the funny side of some of the things your kids do.

  • Music can change the mood for everyone. If things are going downhill, put some relaxing or fun music on. 

  • Try to look at the big picture. You are doing the very best job you can.

  • Think about all the things that you love about your children and all the things you admire. Write a list and stick it on the fridge!

  • Continue to educate yourself. Knowledge is power – and what we know about FASD is changing all the time!

Meet Eileen

Eileen Devine is a licensed clinical social worker with over a dozen years of clinical experience, the adoptive mother of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, and a certified facilitator through FASCETS, Inc., a leading non-profit specialising in the neurobehavioral model. She worked with NOFASD Australia to make a couple of fantastic videos to support caregivers of FASD tamariki. 

To watch 'Building Carer Resilience #1', click here.

To watch 'Building Carer Resilience #2', click here.

Check out Eileen's own website here

Getting an FASD diagnosis

Why is diagnosis important?

The best interventions and management of the symptoms of FASD starts early, and they are dependent on correct diagnosis. But there are further reasons that we encourage it if possible:

  • For tamariki and whānau – diagnosis can be helpful to understand that difficulties are brain-based, and not the result of ‘bad parenting’ or naughtiness. It’s necessary for positive interventions and support, to get access to support services, mitigate secondary challenges and have generally better outcomes long-term. It can also contribute to better understanding of the risks of alcohol in pregnancy and help break the intergenerational cycle of FASD.

  • For schools and communities – diagnosis  is helpful in gaining an understanding of how FASD impacts a child’s learning.  More specifically it means educators can design and implement appropriate educational interventions which can contribute to lifelong positive outcomes; in communities it raises awareness around alcohol in pregnancy and the need for understanding and support for neurodiversity.

There is more information on why diagnosis is important on the Australia FASDHub website, including videos with whānau and individuals. Click here to read and watch.

Avoiding stigma

Getting a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can be made easier if prenatal alcohol exposure is already confirmed. This is why it's essential to avoid stigma for mothers – if they feel unsafe around telling assessors there was alcohol involved in their pregnancy, they may be less inclined to let them know, potentially resulting in an incorrect diagnosis. 

At FASD-CAN we believe no mother intentionally harms her child and we know that reasons for alcohol exposure can include addiction (this alone can be very complex) and unplanned pregnancy – around 50% of pregnancies in Aotearoa are unplanned. This can mean the mother has been drinking alcohol but is unaware she is pregnant.

We are committed to non-judgemental support and compassion.

The process

There are ten brain domains which must be individually assessed to diagnose FASD. These include cognition (IQ), adaptive function (daily living skills), language, motor skills, attention, memory, executive function (reasoning and consequential thinking), scholastic function, neuroanatomy/neurophysiology (such as small head circumference or unexplained seizures) and emotion regulation (anxiety or depressive disorders, including labile or changeable mood).

Please note, there is much more information about the the process of diagnosis on our 'Understanding FASD' page, here.  

In the first instance, if you know or suspect your tamariki has had prenatal alcohol exposure, it can be a good idea to go to your doctor for advice or for a referral to a community paediatrician.  Be aware, however, that many caregivers have reported having to educate their GP about FASD so seeking a referral may be the better option. 

Pathways to a diagnosis

• Privately

This is often the route caregivers or whānau go down, IF they have the resources, but it can be prohibitively expensive and there may be long waitlists. There are a some diagnostic and assessment services around the country and we are currently engaged in a large-scale research project to 'map' services around the motu with the Universities of Auckland and Otago. Please do contact us for further specific help if you would like to. 

• Oranga Tamariki / Permanent Caregiver Support Services (PCSS)

If your child is being fostered by you, and they are under OT care or your child is eligible for PCSS support then they may pay for diagnosis.

• Ministry of Education

The other avenue is through the MoE (your learning support coordinator / SENCO / RTLB should know more about this) which may apply if you and the school are facing severe behavioural issues – this route is also often funded.

• Youth Justice

Sadly, if a young person with FASD does end up in trouble with the law (see our advice around this here), the courts may send them for funded diagnosis. However early intervention will always have the best outcomes. 

Support from others who have been there

It can be helpful to talk to other parents who have been through the process in your area. To contact others, you could find a kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) support group in your area – click here for our list of groups around Aotearoa.

It can be helpful to talk to other parents who have been through the process in your area. To contact others, you could find a kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) support group in your area – click here for our list of groups around Aotearoa.  We are also developing online support group meetings – signing up for updates or following us on Facebook will ensure you stay updated.

If there is not a group near you, you can also try our Facebook support groups:

FASD-CAN NZ Professionals & Parents Group | Facebook

FASD-CAN NZ Parent and Carer Support Group | Facebook

You could also direct your rangatahi with FASD (16 and over) to our new 'Individuals' page.

FASD-CAN Individuals Group | Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

FASD and the education system

 

Caregivers have to be the main point of advocacy for their FASD children at school to help them achieve their best – and often there is much potential! 

As soon as an FASD diagnosis is reached, the school must be informed, and the first contact is likely to be your child's school SENCO – Special Education Needs Coordinator. You'll come across lots of acronyms in education – there's a quick guide in the tab below. 

Depending on the diagnosis and level of intellectual impairment, we have plenty of information on our Information for Educators page which is helpful for teachers to begin an understanding of how your FASD child may behave and learn differently.

An essential and excellent resource is the Te Kete Ipurangi inclusive education page. Here you'll find everything you need to know about what's available for special needs students at every level of education, including funding. 

 

It's often very helpful for teachers to have a one-page information sheet that they can keep on file to refer to which gives helpful tips about your child's strengths, challenges, tips on strategies and ways of communicating.

To this end, we've created a Word document that you can download and fill in, then print it out for your tamariki's teacher. We've also included an example sheet that's filled in.

Click here for the sample pdf (see below), and here for your blank Word document to fill in.

 

intro to school sheet

 

 

Whānau and caregivers in Aotearoa have little option but to be prepared to advocate tirelessly for their child at school – the great benefits of engaging closely with teachers and other educational professionals are well-documented and sadly there are still few clear pathways in our schools that take FASD into account.

From our own experiences, it's enormously important to take time to set up your tamariki at every level of school to enable them to avoid upsets and conflict, achieve their potential and become a valuable member of society.

If this is accomplished at a young age, the better the outcome is for them getting to high school and staying there – but if behavioural problems in early teenage years lead to exclusion from school there's a high chance that things may track badly for your rangatahi in their late teens. 

Having said that, once everyone enabled to communicate and work positively together to identify strengths, create positive environments and healthy expectations, amazing successes can occur! 

The best resource we have come across in terms of helping whanau and caregivers in Aotearoa to advocate for their FASD children comes from Western Australia Development Disability Council.

It covers issues such as:

  • building relationships with schools and teachers
  • creating a profile of strengths and challenges for your tamariki or rangatahi
  • managing their paperwork
  • problem solving
  • mastering meetings, including the psychology of being assertive and/or persuasive! 

Download 'Learning How to Advocate for your Child at School' here

 

Advocate for your child at school - Front Cover

 

IWS, ORS, SENCOs and more - in getting funding and help in education, you may feel that your life begins to revolve around acronyms! Here's a FASD education acronym dictionary - and contact for free legal help from Youthlaw. 

SENCO

At school, you and your FASD child will very likely need to develop a relationship with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO for short) is a teacher who is responsible for special educational needs in school. Most schools in NZ are obliged to employ a SENCO, whose role is to ensure all students with learning disabilities are well equipped to obtain the right help and support they need at school.

LSC, RTLB, RT Lit

Learning Support Coordinator; Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour; Resource Teacher Literacy.

IWS

IWS stands for Intensive Wraparound Service. The IWS supports tamariki who have behaviour, social and/or learning needs with a plan to meet each child’s needs. Their needs are highly complex and challenging and they require support at school, at home and in the community. The IWS plans are created to support tamariki at school, at home and in the community. Plans are designed to have a range of activities and interventions, including help from professionals, to help tamariki and whānau develop new skills. Click here for further information from the Ministry of Education.

ORS

The Ongoing Resourcing Scheme is for students with high or very high ongoing needs for learning support. For more details from the Ministry of Education, click here

HCN

High and Complex Needs.

ICS, IRF

In-class Support Funding; Interim Response Funding.

Here's a handy graphic representation of where to start and who to talk to around getting the right help for your tamariki at school. 

Click the image to download.

Education pathways NZ

 

Education for tamariki with FASD has many obstacles which can often cause problems in the mainstream school environment.

Before beginning their educational journey, children with FASD may already be struggling with processing information, interpreting body language of others and following instructions. Many other skills are not developing in the same way as their peers, so fitting in at school can be a challenge and school refusal or challenging behaviour may be the result.

Home-schooling, or home education as it's most often now referred to as, can be a viable option for some families. While it does require commitment and has challenges, for those caring for a tamariki with FASD who is struggling in a mainstream school environment, it may be an opportunity to provide learning opportunities for your child in a quiet, calm, home environment, with a learning plan tailored to their specific needs. Some families find home education significantly reduces the anxiety and distress that can accompany school attendance and can lead to better outcomes.  

There's an excellent page to consult about all aspects of home education here.

Benefits of home schooling

  • close, warm family relationships
  • fewer teenage problems
  • flexibility which means a more spontaneous and exciting education for your child
  • more opportunities to extend their learning and have them participate in the world around them.

Children learn best when they are interested in a subject and the flexibility of home education allows this to happen regularly.

One of the biggest advantages to home schooling is the flexibility. You can tailor learning programs to suit you, your child and your lifestyle. This also means everyone ends up doing things a little differently.

Drawbacks to home education

  • reduced income as one parent is at home educating rather than earning an income
  • giving up at least part of your house to children’s projects
  • the need to make a greater effort to involve your children in activities with their peers outside of the home for socialisation reasons 
  • a lack of exposure to an assortment of ideas and opinions that the student is more likely to receive if he or she is schooled face-to-face in a school environment and
  • the fact that you are ultimately responsible for the education and learning of your child/children. This may be daunting for some parents who choose to home school - but there are plenty of resources to help!
  • less respite for FASD whānau – the hours when your tamariki are at school can definitely be a blessing!

Do I need permission to homeschool?

Yes, you do. In New Zealand children between 6 – 16 years of age must attend a registered school, or have an exemption from school attendance. This exemption is granted by your local office of the Ministry of Education.

You’ll need to convince the Ministry officer that you are able to educate your child 'as regularly and as well' as a registered school. However you are not obliged to follow the national curriculum or create a mini-school at home. 

The Ministry of Education, in considering your application, will want to know:

  • that you’ve considered your child’s needs and abilities; and
  • that you’ve done some research, set goals and have a reasonable idea of what you are doing.

Contact your local Ministry of Education office for an exemption application form.

Resources

The Ministry of Education provides a small amount of assistance in the form of an annual ‘supervisory allowance'. This consists of $743 for the first child, $632 for the second, $521 for the third, and $372 for each one after that.

This is paid retrospectively, in two instalments each year, June and December.

 

There are a number of Homeschooling websites to consult in New Zealand – click here for a good place to start. 

 

Many thanks to Kiwifamilies for some of the information on this page. 

 

It can be very handy for teachers to have a printout for their wall as a first response resource for a quick reminder of strategy when dealing with students with FASD. This double-sided sheet can be downloaded and printed. Click here or on the pic to download. 

 

hey Teacher front cover

To get an idea on how FASD is currently handled within the education system in Aotearoa, we asked some local experts in FASD education one question each to establish the basics. Click on each name below to go to their opinion.

 

Claire Edwards - What are the most common problems for students with FASD at school, and how are these needs not met?

Tracey Jongens - What needs to happen ideally in schools for students with FASD and are there any signs of hope and change?

Vanna Blucher - From an educator’s perspective, how can teachers be better supported to allow students with FASD to achieve their potential?

 

Claire Edwards

Claire heads our FASD-CAN education sub-committee. She has been teaching in Deaf Ed/Special Ed for the past 20 years, and has just moved on to a new role as Adviser On Deaf Children (AODC). Claire live in Auckland with her three children, 'one hairy dog, and three and a half cats'.

Question: what are the most common problems for students with FASD at school, and how are these needs not met?

The most common problem facing our tamariki/rangatahi within the education system reflects a much wider problem facing NZ: the lack of recognition of FASD as a disability and a general lack of awareness that FASD is a permanent, lifelong brain injury. This means that our tamariki often struggle to access support and funding as often they do not fit criteria and are not considered ‘bad enough’. Lack of funding results in a lack of support within the classroom (for both student and teacher), a place where our tamariki often struggle to cope with the demands and expectations placed upon them. Often funding comes as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when behaviours have escalated and come to a critical point.

There appears to be a distinct lack of training within teacher training institutes around FASD, so teachers are often unaware and not equipped with the skills to deal with the complexities our tamariki present. There is also little support for teachers who are often already dealing with large class numbers and other children with complex needs and neurodiversities.

This and a focus within the classroom on behaviourist techniques such as rewards and consequences (which do not suit children with FASD), often end in behaviours escalating and tamariki/rangatahi being labelled as ‘naughty’ and having behavioural problems.

Within early years and at primary school, our tamariki with FASD often seem to do quite well, possibly due to the more holistic emphasis on learning, but as they hit intermediate/high school there is a huge mismatch in terms of environment and expectations. The fact that they are expected to move from one class to another, one teacher to another and independently follow a timetable does not work well for our learners! If you add sensory processing and memory issues into the mix, it's easy to see how overwhelming this environment would be. Inabilities to regulate emotions without support could end in rangatahi being unable to cope and ending up in trouble.

Then there is the complexity of FASD itself and the fact that it is often ‘invisible’. There’s a saying: ‘if you’ve met one person with FASD, you’ve met one person with FASD!” Levels of skills within FASD can be so different and students can often present as coping on a surface level, but from one day to another they appear to be unable to complete tasks they had previously done.

Without educator training and understanding, it tends to paint a picture of a wilful, manipulative child, rather than a misunderstood one with a brain injury. Often in schools there is a disconnect between the school and the real experts on the child/tamaiti – the whānau! Instead of utilising the knowledge and skills that the whānau have, they can be blamed for behaviours and viewed as interfering parents.

Final thought: we must shift the goals for our learners with FASD from independence to interdependence!

 

Tracey Jongens

Tracey is a founding member of FASD-CAN Inc. She has spent her life working in the education sector, including primary teaching, teacher training, working as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), and is currently Head of Department, supporting students with learning needs and leading the development of a programme to support students with ORS at Te Aratai College in Christchurch. Tracey has spent the last 10 years raising awareness around FASD within the education sector throughout NZ and Australia.


Question: What needs to happen ideally in schools for students with FASD and are there any signs of hope and change? 

Whānaungatanga / relationship is the key to understanding young people with FASD. FASD is an individualised diagnosis. This means that each young person with FASD will have their own areas of strength, their own interests and their own challenges, and no two people with FASD are the same. 

It is imperative that each young person is understood as the person they are, that their strengths are recognised and developed and that their challenges are supported. Whānau are the experts on their young people and it is vital that whānau, the young person and schools work together. Whānaungatanga is increasingly being recognised and embodied in practice by schools throughout Aotearoa / NZ.

A young person with FASD must experience success. This success may be possible with support or with scaffolds being provided. Regardless, success is still success. When a young person experiences success it is important that schools and teachers recognise that the success is possible due to the level of support given. It's vital that the support remains in place over time and is developed and built on.

When a teacher takes the time to connect with whānau, to get to know the young person in their care, to find the strengths in that young person, to reflect as the professional when things become challenging and to try a different way, then the young person will experience success.   

Schools are providing more flexibility for their learners, recognising the need for inclusive practices such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and providing a range of learning and assessment opportunities for tamariki and rangatahi. The development of individualised learning pathways is providing opportunities for learners to learn in the ways that they can enjoy and have success in.

Alongside this is the need to recognise that young people with FASD need ‘time out’ or opportunities to calm.  Classrooms can be over-stimulating. Young people with FASD need to focus so much more to self-regulate. It is vital that quiet spaces, ‘brain breaks’, physical activities and sensory supports are available and easily accessed.   

As the saying goes ‘Rome wasn't built in a day’ – however, there's a lot to be thankful for in the development of education at this time. Schools and teachers are increasingly aware of the importance of wellbeing. Teachers are encouraged to be reflective practitioners.  Whānaungatanga is developing in importance.

Policy from the Ministry of Education now includes FASD as part of the strategies and practice around supporting neurodiversity in schools. The Inclusive TKI website, an online education tool, has a well-researched guide on FASD with excellent strategies provided for teachers. 

 

Vanna Blucher

Vanna is SENCo at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a Modern Learning Environment in Tāmaki Makaurau. She started her career in primary schools and worked in a range of roles including teacher, SENCo, literacy specialist, and acting deputy principal. She made the jump to high school teaching six years ago when she started at Hobsonville Point and she hasn’t looked back since. Vanna has a particular interest in celebrating the diversity of our learners and ensuring all students can feel success while still engaged in their passions.

Follow Vanna @vannablucher5


Question: From an educator’s perspective, how can teachers be better supported to allow students with FASD to achieve their potential?

As for all neurodiverse learners, kaiako need to take the time to learn what each individual student needs to be successful. It is about knowing your learner and figuring out from a strengths-based perspective what is going to work for them in a classroom, and what success looks like to them. 

Students with FASD need both a global and a personal understanding of what works. Most of the time, this understanding comes from trial and error and figuring out what doesn’t work. During this process it’s important to remain empathetic and communicate often with all stakeholders to prevent learning from feeling punitive or deficit-focused. 

In our MLE environment we are able to use different spaces within our learning areas to help support overwhelm, or any other sensory issues that may present in a school day. This is reliant on staff being aware of the signs, and having the capability to make the needed shifts in behaviour or environment before anxiety or overwhelm presents. The student needs to be able to leave and reintegrate into the classroom without unnecessary attention.

A specific learning plan will help with guiding the learning journey, while keeping communication open and transparent between  everyone working with the student. Whānau are key to this process and the meetings that take place need to be structured in such a way that all parties understand where things are at and what the next steps are.

For a learner with FASD, ensuring goals are achievable, sustainable and personalised will help support any strengths-based programme with support of your RTLB and any other support agencies.  

I have made our staff a website which includes a number of helpful resources that can be looked at and used to help build their own understanding and capacity to support a wide range of learning needs, including FASD. By providing resources and reading materials for staff, classroom practice can keep growing and improving so that our learners are being catered for as best we can.  

Exclusion is an all-too common scenario unfortunately for ākonga / students with FASD. It's a big problem with many fascets, but we have some practical advice and some personal stories on our Resources page, here

As with any child, it seems that just when you've got into a routine that's working, it's time to take the next step - and everything changes. For ākonga / students with FASD, coping with these changes can be enormous and overwhelming and for parents – well, the same usually applies!

Here are some links to explore to help with transitions throughout school. 

• Care Matters website: successful transitions throughout school years

• Ministry of Education: lots of info here (aimed at kiako/teachers but good for parents, too) on the MoE's National Transition Guidelines

 

For teens thinking about moving into tertiary education or work, these sites will be helpful.

• SpectrumCare have programmes to help transition from school into work (along with many other services)

• CCS Disability Action have a helpful downloadable brochure on their website for transitioning from school to work

Workbridge provide help nationally for your rangatahi or adult to find and keep a job

 

All universities and tertiary education providers have disability services to look after students who may need learning support.

Student Disability Services - The University of Auckland

Disability support services | Manukau Institute of Technology

Disability Support Services - Student Support - AUT

Disability Support Services | Study Support | Unitec

Disability Services – Victoria University of Wellington

Disability Services – University of Canterbury

Disability information and support – University of Otago

Disability services – Massey University

 

 

Mental health for rangatahi

Some rangatahi may struggle with mental health issues which need professional help. Following are some of the more common concerns that young people may experience and how you can support them. 

Self-Esteem  

Most people, at some point in their life, struggle with low self-esteem. This may be especially true for a young person with a FASD diagnosis because they may feel different, have trouble socially or struggle in school. As a parent, there are things you can do to try and help your young person feel good about themselves, such as: 

  • Create opportunities for your young people to build on their strengths, talents and interests.

  • Celebrate even the smallest of successes with your rangatahi.

  • Highlight your teenager’s strengths at school and with other service providers, to ensure they use and build on them.

  • Get your rangatahi involved in organised recreational activities that can provide opportunities for building friendships and experiencing success. Remember that they may need reminders about rules, practice and game times, as well as transportation to get to the activity.

Addictions 

There are many reasons why young adults with FASD may experiment with drugs or alcohol, such as low self-esteem, peer influence, a need to fit in or as a way to cope with their feelings. Following is a list of strategies that may help you to support your teen. 

  • Talk to your tamaiti / rangatahi about substance use and your whānau expectations about using alcohol and other drugs.

  • Be curious when asking your young person about their substance use but try not to judge. Staying neutral will encourage your young person to be honest with you.

  • If you suspect your young person has substance use problems or has developed an addiction, contact your local Alcohol and Drug Service for support and information about how to talk to your child or young person about substance use.  

  • Connect with your child/teenager’s school about what addiction/counselling resources are offered in their school.

  • Provide the counsellor with information about your child/teenager’s primary diagnosis to ensure the service provided is best suited to your teenager’s learning style.

  • Get involved to help your young person at home and in the community with the goals they set during counselling sessions.

  • Provide reminders and/or transportation to appointments.

Self-Harming Behaviours 

Self-harming behaviours may take many forms, such as cutting, scratching, not eating, vomiting after eating (bulimia), not allowing wounds to heal, burning or hair pulling. It is important to know that self-harming is most often used as a way of coping. 

  • It is best to get professional help to find out if your child is using this as a way to cope with feelings. If that is the case, try to react calmly, without judgment or blame and be aware of your body language. Remember that your young person is already feeling hurt. Ask professionals for more ways you can help them overcome self-harming behaviours and develop healthy ways of coping.

  • Explore healthy coping methods your young person can use, such as writing their feelings in a journal, listening to music, drawing or other artwork, and exercising.

  • Use feelings charts to help your rangatahi normalise all feelings including anger, sadness and joy.

FASD and sexuality

It can be a tricky subject, but it's an extremely important one. It's very common for those affected by FASD to experience some complex issues around emerging sexuality which can become serious. It's essential for them to receive early, clear, repeated information around what is and what is not appropriate, alongside supervision where necessary. 

Schools present sex education lessons for adolescents and teens but these can be confusing to those with FASD. And because young people with FASD want to be included, they can be a target for sexual advances by others – or can become involved in coercion themselves. 

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour (ISB) 

ISB can include inappropriate touching, promiscuous or dangerous sexual behaviour, sexual remarks, lack of physical boundary space, disrespect of privacy, masturbation in inappropriate settings, exposing ones’ self, voyeurism, and obscene or offensive language. Many of these problems can be mitigated by open discussion and clear boundaries which must be constantly reinforced as those with FASD transition into adulthood. 

Family Planning NZ – The Colours of Sexuality brochure

Family Planning have created an excellent e-resource for those teaching or caring for intermediate and secondary students with learning disabilities, including FASD. The resource provides a framework to navigate Relationships and Sexuality Education with young people who may need extra support in understanding concepts in the standard curriculum.

Click here to go the website to download ($5).

Canadian Research Paper 2018

CanFASD, the Canadian National FASD research agency, produced an issue paper in 2018 on ISB in those with FASD. The purpose of this was "to highlight an overview of the current existing research conducted in this area and offer implications for individuals, families, caregivers, and policy makers." It is important reading – here are a few samples of their finding. 

• Researchers estimated that ISB are displayed by 45%-52% of adults with FASD. Rates of ISB associated with FASD appear to increase over the lifespan, with studies demonstrating the rates of ISB in children (ages 6-11) at 39%, 42% in adolescence (ages 12-20), and up to of 65% in adult males. The average age when ISB initially present is approximately 10 years old, although the age of emergence can vary.

• Individuals with developmental disabilities should receive sexual health education which is specifically informed by the person’s needs and disability.

• It is essential that FASD-informed approaches towards adopting healthy sexuality and properly addressing ISB are implemented to help individuals with FASD as part of holistic support. Individuals with FASD are sexual beings like everyone else and need to understand their sexuality and sexual needs in a healthy way.

The research concluded:

"ISB is frequently an adverse life outcome for individuals with FASD ... there is an obvious need for future research to address the significant gaps in this area. Future research should focus on investigations that better outline the cause of ISB in this population, as well as the assessment of FASD and ISB. Researchers also need to examine sex offender treatment programs for individuals with FASD and improve understanding about FASD amongst professionals addressing ISB, specifically those within legal settings contending with those experiencing trouble with the law as a result of ISB."

Click here to download and read this important paper. 

 

Please note: there is an upcoming Canadian webinar on October 28, 2022 at 6am NZ time (1.5 hours) which will focus on the importance on teaching sexual health to individuals with FASD - register here.

 

 

Trouble with the law

 

Impulsivity, eagerness to please, lack of judgement and recklessness all contribute to a well-documented over-representation of rangatahi with FASD within our courts and penal system.

Many parents and caregivers have found it helpful to introduce their rangatahi to the local police. They can explain some of the basics of FASD to them and ensure that caregivers are called direct should their teen or young person get in trouble. 

We have a pamphlet on our resources page which you can download and either email or print out to hand over to police – you could even encourage them to ask their colleagues to read it. Click here to access our police pamphlet.

There is more information for police on our professionals page under Police and Justice, including online training for them about FASD.

It can also be a good idea for your rangatahi to carry on them a health passport which they can hand to police that will inform them that they have FASD and also has contact numbers for you. 

However, if problems with the law occur, it's very important to communicate clearly with professionals working in the justice system to ensure they can help both the parent and the young person get through this challenging time. 

 

 

  • If your rangatahi is arrested, inform police of the FASD diagnosis and areas of challenges for the young person. Ask that they not be interviewed for a statement until a lawyer or guardian is present.
  • If your young person is detained in custody, inform the custodial staff of the FASD diagnosis.Tell them about your young person’s strengths and challenges to help the custodial staff better understand them.
  • Tell the young person’s lawyer about the FASD assessment and if possible, provide a copy of the diagnostic report. This information will help the courts understand your child.
  • The parent or caregiver’s attendance in court is important to help answer questions and consider community supports.
  • If your young person is assigned to a youth justice or probation officer, parents are encouraged to communicate with that person.
  • It's important for parents or caregivers to go to appointments to ensure the young person understands the information. This will help them comply with a probation order. Probation orders can include language that is hard to understand, so ask questions. If your young person is more visual, ask about visual tools.

Help with legal advice

There is quality, FREE legal advice available from Youth Law - call 0800 UTHLAW, email at [email protected] or find them on Facebook here.

Help with communication

If your child has communication problems within a justice setting you may be able to access help from Talking Trouble Aotearoa. They can help with a Communication Assistant in Youth, District and High Courts and Family Group Conferences for witnesses or defendants who need assistance with understanding and participating in these settings.

 

This is a 20-minute presentation by Professor Anita Gibbs of the University of Otago. Professor Gibbs is a much-respected lecturer in sociology and criminology and is a registered social worker. Her research studies have included electronic monitoring, mental health, adoption, transcultural parenting, defining social work research, auto-ethnography, and FASD and its effects on families. Anita also facilitates a parent support group for families caring for individuals with FASD in Dunedin.

Anita and her partner have a birth daughter and two boys they adopted from Russia. She shares here a remarkable joint presentation with her teenage son Dima in the context of their own experiences in the NZ justice system. 

What Works Well and What Doesn’t Work so well for young people with FASD in the Youth Justice System in Aotearoa New Zealand’ was part of a two-day virtual conference, 'Let's Continue the Conversation' at the Lakeland Centre for FASD in Canada in October 2021. 

Click on the image below to go to the presentation.

 

 

Grandparents raising grandchildren

Around Aotearoa there are many grandparents raising their mokopuna. It often comes with some big challenges, but you are not alone: a NZ group is dedicated to helping tūpuna raising grandchildren. the only organisation dedicated to providing information, advice, support and advocacy specifically for full-time grandparent caregivers.

Click here for more details.

 

The role of tane in FASD

Partners and fathers are enormously important when it comes to FASD. 

Of course, the first role they play is in supporting their partners in an alcohol-free pregnancy, but if a diagnosis of FASD has been reached, there are many ways men can input into support, including as fathers or being mentors to young people, peers and role models.

Elizabeth Elliot, Chair of the advisory group for FASD-Hub Australia introduces this recording of a webinar on the subject held in September 2022 about the male role in FASD. 

Click here to watch the video.

Other resources mentioned in the webinar can be accessed here: 

Michael and Lina's story

• Tristan's Story

• The Fathering Project

In Aotearoa, we have a few support websites specifically for fathers including: 

Great Fathers

Fathers for Families (ten week course through Family Success Matters)

and many more on Health Navigator NZ.

Planning for Adulthood – how the law can help

If you are a caregiver or parent of a tamariki or rangatahi with FASD, their long-term welfare is a worrying thought – if anything happens to you, or when eventually you die, who will look after them? What is their legal position and who will support them, understand their needs and make decisions about their welfare on their behalf if they are unable to do so?

You may be concerned about managing and protecting assets or income of your adult offspring. There are legal ramifications that need to be understood around family trusts, welfare guardianship, powers of attorney, property management and how a trust may be useful for managing property. And of course a will is essential.

New Zealand charity Disability Connect runs regular webinars on the subject and they have kindly allowed us to share the excellent list of digital resources they send out to their attendees afterwards.

You can subscribe to their newsletter here to stay updated on upcoming Disability Connect webinars (and their Transition Expo in September 2023). 

Webinars

Disability Connect webinars are run by lawyer Nan Jensen. There’s an article about Nan in the NZ Law Society here where she talks about why she began to practise disability law.

You can also check out Nan’s Facebook page and her YouTube channel where you can watch various videos on this subject. 

Online info and resources

Welfare guardianship  

Property Manager info 

Property Administrator info

• Health & Disability Commission links

– the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights

the Code and your rights

Enduring Power of Attorney info

• Legal Services | Disability Connect

 

 

 

Ko ngā mahi hāpai mā te whānau me ngā kaitiaki | Practical help for caregivers and whānau

FASD training for caregivers

We've curated some FASD training options for you to consider – both informal and formal.

Read more

Caregiver and whānau support groups

Here's your listing of whānau-led support groups who meet regularly around the country.

Read more

Our Whānau Direct grant scheme

Thanks to funding from the MOH we rolled out a scheme to bestow small financial grants for whānau affected by FASD in early 2022. This fund is now depleted but we're proud to have helped where we could.

 

Directory of professional support

A listing of professional support available in Aotearoa, from initial diagnosis to ongoing assessment. 

Read more

Tūhono mai  | Become a member

Tūhono mai | Become a member

Sign up to receive more information such as relevant news or events – it’s free, there’s no requirement for input from you, and there are some great benefits built in. By joining FASD-CAN you’ll gain access to specific resources, advocacy, webinars and hui, and you'll be sent a free printed copy of our Handbook.

But even better – by becoming part of our team, you’d be helping us out. Staying informed and sharing information with others means you’ll be walking alongside us as we campaign for those impacted by FASD for the right to live their best lives.

Join us now!

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Ko ngā pūrākau a ngā mātua me ngā kaitiaki | Parent's stories

Hei kaitūao | Become a volunteer

Hei kaitūao | Become a volunteer

Do you have some time to help us help others? We often need volunteers to help with our activities, or who are able to offer support to others, start a support group, fundraise or assist at awareness-raising events. If you have expertise to share (and all of us who have lived with someone with FASD has built up some knowledge of behaviours, strategies, contacts and more), your skills could help others.  

If time is short, other options for input could include joining one or both of our private Facebook groups to share information that may help others – our Parents and Professionals group or our Parents and Carers Support group.

And please consider contacting local MPs to ask for more recognition of FASD – your voice matters, and together we can be stronger!  

Volunteer

Understanding FASD

To deepen your understanding of FASD, check out this page.

 

Learn more

More Resources

For further helpful tips and resources, it's worth having a look around here.

 

Learn more