Another school year is underway and the reorganization of classes has taken place. Teachers have examined their revised class lists trying to identify potential challenges, hoping there won’t be too many. Parents are hoping their child will be able to cope, be happy, and accepted. The teacher and the parent both want the same thing: a safe, happy, learning school year where each child is included, and is challenged optimally to learn. For a parent and teacher of the child with FASD however, this could be a very challenging goal unless some proactive steps are taken at the beginning of the year. For the educators involved (including all teachers and administrators) it means they will be challenged to reassess their usual classroom management strategies and for the parent it takes a lot of bravery and constructive assertiveness to educate the educator and be frank and open about their child’s needs.
My experience as an educator is that parents assume we should know things about all kinds of topics that we don’t. Nothing in a teacher’s education or for that matter a principal’s education actually prepares them practically with knowledge and skills to deal with children with FASD. In fact, many teachers will not even know what you mean. It is simply not part of their education. Sometimes previous experience or through professional reading a teacher may know something, but often, that something is too general and the information is essentially flawed.
Creating a learning environment that assists the student with FASD requires educators to be flexible in their approach first and foremost in their goals and classroom management strategies. Educators universally strive to teach children to become independent thinkers, to learn from their mistakes and become problem solvers. Over the past many years the focus for teachers has been on teaching children collaborative, problem solving skills and restorative practices. For the child with FASD this would be a waste of time. Children with FASD do not understand nor can they anticipate cause and effect. They are able to mimic what the teachers says and do not necessarily understand it. They require black and white rules to live by that are given as prevention of difficulties not as a consequence of difficulties.
So how can a parent advocate for their child and plan for a successful school year given these barriers?
You have to educate the educator in a respectful and helpful way.
In my experience, parents think they need to demand rather than inform. But most times what parents want for their child is not something a teacher or even the principal can actually give. For instance, a parent might expect that with a diagnosis of FASD the student is ‘entitled’ to a teaching assistant or some specialized help. Unfortunately, this is not in the school’s control. It is a board decision. In addition, at the present time, FASD is not under the umbrella of ‘special needs’ and therefore is not considered as ‘qualifying’ for a teaching assistant. Sad, but true.
So what to do?
1. Arrange a meeting with the teacher AND the principal. At the meeting explain that your child has FASD and what it means. A chart that explains what it does mean and what it doesn’t might be helpful:
There may be other things about your particular child that may be pertinent to understanding your child.
2. Ask for Behaviour Teaching Support. Each school in Peel has a Behaviour Teaching Assistant (BTA) that can work with your child or provide support to the teacher when designing a program. This might mean they can provide assistance for transitions or washroom duty or on the recess yard.
3. Provide strategies that you know work for your child such as:
- Use a calm voice
- Think ahead to transitions and prepare them with a rule for how to do the transition
- Limit where they can go on the schoolyard
- Provide the student with space in the classroom
- Provide the student with a labeled area inside the classroom for their coat, knapsack and materials so interactions is contained in a safe manner
- Provide the student with a Visual Schedule
- Make rules for the classroom specifically for your child’s needs
- Make a book of the rules
- Don’t use the usual rewards and punishments
Knowing what works for your child is very helpful.
4. Ask for daily communication but make it simple. Maybe a happy face/neutral face to indicate the kind of day it has been or a point form note to indicate any issue that may have occurred.
Advocating for a child with FASD and their needs is important. Since, it is not a well understood need in the education system (although it is getting better), it is helpful for parents to share their knowledge with educators. Presuming positive intentions will often make conversations run smoothly. Remember, teachers and parents want the same thing and by working together will result in a more successful school year for everyone.