Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is more common than you would think, as its symptoms fall along a spectrum and many aren’t immediately noticeable at birth. Current estimates suggest that between 4-6% of individuals are affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, which means it is 3 times as likely to be diagnosed as autism spectrum disorder. The high association between fetal alcohol syndrome and learning disabilities can make it difficult for FAS to be accurately diagnosed, as specific learning disorders may be more easily identifiable due to underreporting of prenatal alcohol exposure.
In a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, out of the 2,962 children evaluated, the researchers identified 222 with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. All but two of them had not been previously diagnosed, although most of the parents had been aware that their children had learning and behavioral difficulties that they had been trying to address.
Signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:
- Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, difficulty understanding consequences of actions
- Learning disabilities associated with executive functioning difficulties, including memory, concentration, language delays, cognitive flexibility
- Difficulty with social skills and self-regulation
- Sensory processing issues
- Motor coordination
- Mental health disorders are seen in over 90% of individuals with FASD, compared to 20% of the general population
- Higher risk of addiction to alcohol and other drugs
- Smaller head, facial features, and poor growth only occurs in around 10% of cases, despite stigma that it is the most common feature
Focusing on Learning Abilities
Teens with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Learning Disabilities often struggle in the general classroom with academic challenges, peer acceptance, and self-esteem. Instead of focusing on learning disabilities, focusing on their learning abilities can help them to be successful students and transition into adulthood more smoothly. They may need more direct and systematic instruction in the classroom to address how they learn differently.
Create a routine that provides consistency and structure in their lives. This helps reduce transition anxiety, improves attention span, and considers problems with working memory. Making to-do lists or keeping track of a calendar or planner can help them with organization and planning.
Use clear, direct language when giving instructions to break down bigger expectations into smaller tasks. Identify specific goals and academic milestones they want to achieve.
Identify Strengths as well as areas where they need extra support. Their strengths may be in certain subjects or related to physical ability or artistic talent. Ability is determined by multiple skills and focusing on one’s strengths helps build self-esteem and resilience.
Collaborate with teachers, specialists, and therapists to create a plan that will address their academic and emotional needs. Include your child in these conversations and encourage them to reach out for help when they need it.
Encourage self-advocacy and autonomy. Our approach encourages students to become more independent once they have learned the skills they need, using scaffolding. We help students to identify their own needs and strengths and offer support and resources to help them reach their potential.
New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with neurodevelopmental issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome that are associated with learning differences. The mission of the program is to use positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and a clear sense of judgement in their everyday lives. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits. We can help your family today!