How to help ‘violent’ students with FASD

Persons with FASD are misunderstood around the world.  While some do not have a diagnosis due to the stigma associated with FASD others are diagnosed with something that is more acceptable to the society. Here is a piece by Mary Cunnigham published on Jan 24.  Mary is an FASD Consultant in Kitchener ON.


FASD Misunderstood

Retrieved from:

Alarm grows as unruly students lash out at teachers — Jan. 24

This story represents almost the last straw for me. I lead a group of nine experienced Ontario educators who have spent the last 10 years trying hard to help Ontario educators find a solution to the problem of students who are “violent” at school. We can’t keep banging our heads against the proverbial walls much longer. Yes, there is a big “violence”-at-school problem. We know why and we have an emerging solution. And we are being almost completely ignored.

Most of the students described in this article have brain-based conditions, the most common of which is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Due to stigma, most students with FASD are unrecognized and/or diagnosed with something more socially acceptable than FASD. So they are receiving no effective understanding or supports for their permanent FASD brain damage from prenatal, but we can show educators how to support them more effectively. This reduces the violence and, more importantly, saves these children.

FASD is not a mental health disorder; it is permanent, physical brain damage. Mental health remedies rarely work for these students because their brain architecture is very different from normal, especially in the very complex cases in this article. When unsupported and unrecognized, these students do hit, kick and bite during sensory processing “meltdowns.” Episodes are common, can last all day and disturb everyone. The child cannot stop doing this without modern brain-based supports for their brain-based behaviour.

Last century’s behaviour modification, commonly used in Ontario schools, categorically does not work with these students and creates more damage leading to common, intractable and costly co-occurring adolescent and adult mental health disorders which do not respond to treatment. Until we change all of this, school “violence” will continue and Ontario schools will continue to do more harm than good to students with FASD.

More money and staff thrown at this problem will do little. All staff need to be properly trained in 21st century approaches to FASD. Conveniently, this universal approach will also work for many other difficult conditions.

Mary Cunningham

KWC FASD Consulting


Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.


  1. Do you know where we can access Mary’s “universal approach” for educators working with fASD kids?

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