FASD: Setting our Tertiary Students up for Success

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March 19, 2024 at 9:30am - 12pm

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FASD: Setting our Tertiary Students up for Success


Our first webinar for 2024 addresses the misconceptions and stigma often associated with FASD, specifically in terms of people with FASD as tertiary learners.

People with FASD can and do succeed in education and training beyond secondary school with the right knowledge, supports and accommodations. Note that when we talk about ‘tertiary education’ this is not just universities and polytechnics – it includes any learning after secondary school. It is also known as higher or vocational education and can take place anywhere from building sites to farms.

This webinar first appeared as a presentation at the Neuroabilities Symposium for tertiary educators held in Dunedin in October 2023. It had a wonderful response from tertiary educators, so FASD-CAN is presenting it to this larger audience as an interactive webinar.

This webinar will:

• present the experiences of some of those who have accessed tertiary education in Aotearoa / New Zealand

• explore educators’ understanding of the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the brain

• present research related to FASD within the education system

• look at disability support policies in tertiary education institutes in Aotearoa

• examine FASD-informed strategies, accommodations, modifications and supports that work well in a learning environment

• address how the employment outcomes, subsequent to gaining qualifications, can be enhanced.

The webinar will take place within Neurodiversity Celebration Week which runs between 18-24 March this year.

Our Presenters

Kim Milne, Dr Leigh Henderson, Professor Anita Gibbs, Tracey Johnston and Dr Joanna Chu

In terms of our representation, four of the presenters (Kim Milne, Dr Leigh Henderson, Professor Anita Gibbs, and Tracey Johnston) are caregivers of people with FASD, and Professor Gibbs is also an academic who has published many articles on FASD. Dr Chu is an academic with extensive research on different aspects of FASD.

Kim Milne

Kim is first and foremost a parent of a young adult with FASD. She is a lived-experience expert in FASD, and has attended many trainings on FASD, particularly in relation to education. Kim joined FASD-CAN last year as Principal Advisor and is responsible for their education portfolio of work. She is motivated in her work to address the many inequities facing people with FASD and their whānau in terms of funding support, education, justice, health and mental health, employment and housing. Kim holds qualifications in history, political science, international politics, social work, and business management, and has worked for the government in various capacities for many years.

Dr Leigh Henderson

Dr Henderson is a geneticist and toxicologist with strong research credentials and a career in academia, industry and government. She also considers herself a lived experience FASD expert as a result of the diagnosis of a family member ten years ago and her quest for awareness of, and justice for, this group of individuals. She is currently Chair of FASD-CAN, the national organisation for whanau and professionals who support individuals with FASD, and the individuals themselves. A current major interest is developing the voice of those with FASD by providing networking and leadership opportunities.

Professor Anita Gibbs

Professor Gibbs is a professor of criminology and social work at Otago University. She became passionate about neurodisability and neurodiversity when bringing up her two neurodiverse adopted children. She has lived experience as a caregiver of children with FASD, ADHD and autism and has engaged with the full range of health, welfare, justice and education and disability systems for many years. Her research interests are focused on supporting caregivers of children with FASD; her practice focuses on training for caregivers and professionals alongside developing materials to work with neurodivergent people; and her teaching ensures all of her 300-plus students per year are educated with at least one module on neurodiversity.

Dr Joanna Ting Wai Chu

Dr Chu is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Population Health, University of Auckland. She has a background in education and developmental psychology. She has a specific interest in FASD, a condition that is still largely under-recognised and under-resourced in Aotearoa, New Zealand. She is currently leading several FASD-related projects including understanding knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) surveys about FASD in various sectors, and developing and evaluating new and innovative approaches to support individuals and families living with FASD.

Tracey Johnston

Tracey is the mother of a young adult with FASD and has been active in learning about FASD through numerous workshops over the past several years. She has a background in education at both Primary and Secondary levels and has worked with many children with a range of disabilities with a particular focus on those with FASD in the education sector who are not supported to succeed in education. She holds a Bachelor of Education and a Diploma of Teaching and has worked in the education sector for 20 years. Tracey currently is involved in raising the awareness of FASD in the wider community and is on the education committee for FASD-CAN.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – some background

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is estimated to affect 3-5% of the population in Aotearoa. It frequently co-occurs with autism and ADHD. Those with FASD have significant damage to at least three brain domains, including those responsible for executive functioning, adaptive functioning, memory and emotional regulation. Nevertheless, with the appropriate accommodations these individuals can do well in a range of occupations.

A survey of education professionals in Aotearoa demonstrated a low understanding of FASD. A recent survey of those with FASD within the education system showed a high drop-out rate because of the lack of informed support.

The lived experience of those who have accessed tertiary education suggests that tertiary providers are ill-equipped and lack information on how best to support them and consequently few achieve a tertiary qualification.

Please note: educators keen to find out more about FASD can access many resources on the Professionals / Educators page on our website.