Ideas that will help me achieve at school – from an FASD perspective
Helping me remember
- Signs with pictures that show me what to do are helpful
- Reminders written down on the board
- Written messages to take home rather than oral messages I have to remember (or email messages direct to home)
- A visual timetable
- Give a warning (or two) a few minutes before I have to change an activity
- Frequent checking with me to ensure I know what I am doing (and checking I have the things I need at home).
- Giving me one instruction at a time
- Praise when I do remember ... but don't expect this to be possible all the time.
If I don’t always do the right thing it's probably because I can’t, not because I won’t!
Helping me learn
- Well-explained, simple, clear oral and written instructions given step by step
- Check my understanding
- A model or visual example
- A quiet space where I can work by myself
- Lots of opportunities to practise new ideas
- Lots of repetition
- Clear boundaries and expectations
- Routines that are regular and easy to predict
- Giving me specific feedback
- Praise for every small achievement or improvement builds self-esteem and a desire to keep trying
- More time to do things so I can think about things properly and not rush
- Checking with me regularly and helping me think a bit more, rather than expecting me to ask questions
- Pitching my work at the correct level for me, not necessarily the same as my peers.
Helping me behave
- Listen to my parents/caregivers. They know me best and have already had to develop strategies and techniques to manage my FASD symptoms. Do not think you know better.
- Work with my parents/caregivers to be as consistent as possible in approaches to my symptoms at home and at school
- Explain to me what you expect and how you want me to act
- If I get angry, let me calm down before talking to me about it
- Have a safe place for me to go when I am getting angry
- Have a safe adult who can help me when I need help
- Visual prompts to show me what to do
- Tell me about changes to the routine as soon as you can
- Tell my parent/caregiver before something happens so they can help me understand what is happening
- Give me regular times during the day when I can let my brain rest, and reduce my stress and anxiety
- I do not do well when I am expected to manage myself, I do better when someone can support me
- Tell me when I am doing things the way I should be - praise is great!
- Sometimes I can be encouraged to do silly things by others. Please help me to know when others are not helpful to me.
Communication that builds my self-esteem
The way you talk to me is really important to my self-esteem and desire to learn. It can make or break our relationship. I know I will do things that will 'push your buttons' and that may be dangerous or inappropriate at times. It is NOT deliberate. My brain makes it hard to think clearly and act in a way most people would find acceptable. Sometimes I can, but I cannot do it consistently. This is the unpredictability of FASD. I don't want to be the 'naughty' kid no one likes or wants to have in their class, but I cannot change my brain (although I often wish I could!).
The impact of the prenatal alcohol use had on my brain development means I am often uncertain and anxious inside. I tend to be in constant readiness for a 'flight or fight' response. Get to know me, learn from what my parents/caregivers have told you about me, and try to adjust your expectations so I don’t get triggered and the pressures of learning and school participation don’t build up.
Please think carefully about why I may have done something wrong that requires a punishing 'consequence'. Have I done the thing I did because of my brain damage, which I cannot change no matter how hard I might want to, or because I made a deliberate thoughtful decision to do something wrong? Both are possible, but it is usually because of my brain.
Any consequence for the choices I make because of my brain damage should always be used as an opportunity for restitution and learning. This will be mana-enhancing and encourage me to keep trying. Talking about growth mindsets and learning from mistakes is also helpful, as is the phrase: "You can't do it YET!"
Educators should also have realistic expectations about the effectiveness of consequences in changing unwanted choices or behaviour. My choice or behaviour is not because I am trying to do the wrong thing. It is the brain damage which has resulted in issues with short-term memory, the lack of development and ineffective neural links to the cerebral cortex.
The anxiety and academic and social confusion I feel most of the time is bubbling away unseen beneath the surface. This results in cortisol rushing through my system, and can quickly turn into a fight and flight responses to any unwanted stimuli or some fear, frustration, or anxiety.
If a consequence is appropriate for my actions, it needs to be short, pitched at my developmental capabilities, directly related to the incident (a natural consequence), and predictable – i.e. the consequences for certain behaviour had been explained to me beforehand and I had been regularly reminded of them because of my memory problems.
Some final points
BEING 'DIFFICULT' – if I'm unhappy, unfriendly or difficult this will almost certainly be because I am confused, frustrated, tired or angry. Please take the time to understand me if you can.
HOMEWORK – when I'm at school I use an enormous amount of my energy to keep myself safe and focused. At the end of school I am extremely tired and do not cope well with homework. It would be great if you could think about ways to minimise homework or make it more manageable. Neuroscience has proven through the use of PET scans that the brain of someone with FASD uses 3 x more energy than the brain of neurotypical individual.
DECISION MAKING – FASD means that my brain has trouble thinking of lots of things at once. This makes it really hard for me to make choices and decisions. It's helpful when I have someone else to help me understand what the choices are and how they might affect me.
INFLEXIBILITY – My FASD brain also means that I cannot change my thinking quickly. I 'think in black and white' and have trouble with thinking outside this. If you do have to change things, please help me by preparing me first.
MY TALENTS – when I can work within my talents I can show you amazing things. Please let me have regular opportunities to work in these areas.
I can't change the way I was born, but you can help make my environment be a place where I can achieve success!