Ottawa Citizen: Students with fetal alcohol disorder need unique, tailored supports, say parents

Ottawa Citizen – ANDREW DUFFY

A Winchester couple with two adopted boys who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) say those with the condition require unique, carefully tailored supports in the classroom.

Tracy and Eric Moisan’s boys, aged 9 and 14, have both been diagnosed with FASD. Their older sister, 17, has not been diagnosed, but her parents believe she’s on the same spectrum.

FASD results from a fetus being exposed to alcohol during a mother’s pregnancy; it causes brain damage, growth problems and short-term memory issues. The disorder affects people in vastly different ways, but it often leads to difficulties in school and problems coping with daily life.

“FASD, for someone who’s not informed about it, often looks to them like kids with really bad behaviours,” said Tracy Moisan, 47, a high-tech worker who has scaled back her career to care and advocate for her children.

Moisan said too many school children with FASD are being labelled as “kids with behaviour problems” or “bad kids,” when in fact many are simply overwhelmed by noisy, chaotic classrooms.

Her youngest son, she said, has sensory issues that make classrooms challenging. The hum of fluorescent lights bothers him, and a room with brightly coloured posters can induce anxiety. “That environment is completely overwhelming to him,” she said. “That anxiety creates behavioural problems.”

At first, Moisan said, his school focused solely on those behavioural issues. Only after he was formally diagnosed with FASD did educators begin to examine how to create a better classroom environment for him. He now works with an educational assistant and leaves the classroom at specific times every day to give his sensory system a break.

“That works very much for him,” she says.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society, its stakeholders or funders.

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