Classroom to serve students with FASD
New supports for students first of their kind in board, southern Ontario
Funding from the province will allow the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) to provide a better learning experience for students with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
A special classroom will be established for a maximum of eight students this fall at a school in Barrie. The program, featuring an SCDSB teacher, a social worker and a child and youth worker, will be unique to the board and the first of its kind in southern Ontario. The board is working with Simcoe Muskoka Child and Youth Family Services and Mackenzie Health’s Centre for Behaviour Health Sciences.
“We actually do (professional development) right now for schools that have concerns around children with FASD within the schools,” said Sally Potts, the board’s principal of special education. “The beauty of this is that it’s two agencies and our school board coming together. That’s the difference. If you think of it as a hierarchy, we can support kids in general. But the most profoundly affected will now have a specialized class.”
FASD is an umbrella term to describe the range of lifelong brain-based disabilities that can occur in individuals whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy. It is estimated about 1% of the population is affected by FASD, meaning about 500 SCDSB students could be suffering from the array of symptoms of prenatal alcohol exposure.
The school board initiative was inspired by a report issued by the FASD Ontario Network of Expertise. “A Call to Action” outlined several recommendations in five areas to help treat those who suffer from FASD. That report found 86% of youth in the province had never been referred to or received any FASD-informed interventions or services.
The goal, Potts said, is any student will spend no more than two years in the specialized FASD program, which doesn’t yet have an official name. The partners in that classroom “will then support the community school the child comes from to understand how to program more effectively for kids with FASD,” she added.
“That’s actually a key: building capacity within our whole community.”
What many fail to comprehend, Potts admitted, is FASD and its associated diseases are brain injuries. Some of the steps the board is taking in creating the classroom where these students will learn are similar to what the board does with its students on the autism spectrum. The classroom will be basic in its set-up, devoid of items that could overstimulate the students.
“It’s like having a concussion in a way, but more profound,” she said. “So, expecting someone to learn and apply it over and over again, it’s really hard for these kids. That’s what is heartbreaking about it.”
Each day begins anew for students suffering from FASD, with the lessons and skills taught the day before often needing to be reiterated. Part of the challenge for educators is the need to adjust their ways of teaching students with FASD, which is why the teacher assigned to this class will undergo special training in August, before the school year begins.
“For a child who is struggling with behaviour, you might try to a reward system, like stickers. That might not work with a child with FASD. The things you’ve been trained a s a teacher to do won’t necessarily work,” Potts said. “It’s around understanding that they don’t learn in the same way that lots of other people do, and to honour that.”