AccessAbility Day 5: Article Summary- Educating Students With FASD: Linking Policy, Research, and Practice

FASD special education

Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) experience a range of cognitive disabilities, including learning and intellectual disabilities. Therefore, they often require special education strategies and programs in schools. In this study, Millar and colleagues (2017) have conducted a literature search on the prevalence of FASD in school-aged children and the impact of FASD on learning, followed by an overview of policy and practice of special education strategies and programs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada within last 18 years.

Main findings

  • As per 2006 reports, the prevalence of FASD in at-risk populations in Canada is ~1%. The international prevalence of FASD ranges from 3–6.3%, even though these numbers could be an under-estimate.
  • In addition to the high economic impact of FASD, prenatal alcohol exposure impacts the health and behavior of children. Lack of proper support may lead to adverse outcomes such as school drop out, engagement with the justice system, mental health issues, and substance misuse.
  • Across Canada, three different FASD education policies exist, each of which comes with a diverse set of challenges to the teachers:
    • Generic education policy
    • Special education policy
    • Explicit FASD policy
  • Best strategies for educating children with FASD include:
    • Structured, less-distracting, inclusive and supportive environment, routines, brief and clear guidelines/instructions, visual aids, and multisensory activities.
    • Practicing an inclusive and accessible policy of education that allows maximum participation of children with FASD in both educational and social activities within the classroom and school.
    • Personalized learning activities (individualized education plans) that are based on each child’s strengths and weaknesses as well as their interests.
    • Implementing a curriculum based on input from parents, families, caregivers and the multidisciplinary care professionals (E.g., Healthcare professionals, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and social workers).
    • Understanding the capacities and limitations of children with FASD in contrast to their peers to modify the teaching strategies and learning environment accordingly.
    • Incorporating innovative teaching approaches, technology, and tools.


  • Teachers should learn how to identify children with learning disabilities that are specific to FASD and to modify their teaching strategies to educate these children.
  • Identification, implementation, and documentation of special education strategies that can address the FASD-related challenges in learning are needed.
  • Evidence-based and collaborative practices should be adopted to meet the educational needs of children with FASD in the classroom.

Take-home message
School-aged children with FASD experience challenges in academic achievements, learning, memory, cognition, and communication, among other learning and behavioral disabilities. As the support and education needs of children with FASD are unique and different than other neurodevelopmental disorders, they require FASD-specific special education programs and strategies within the classroom.

Authors: Julie A. Millar, Janet Thompson, Dorothy Schwab, Ana Hanlon-Dearman, Deborah Goodman, Gal Koren, and Paul Masotti

Journal: Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs

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