Article Summary: Prevalence of FASD and associated costs of special education in Canadian schools

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In this series, we summarize newly published research articles about FASD and break them down for the CanFASD reader. Please contact us to request a topic and we will look for articles that fit your interests. 

Special Education of Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (2016).

Authors: Svetlana Popova, Shannon Lange, Larry Burd, Seungree Nam, & Jurgen Rehm

Journal Information: Exceptionality, 24, 165-175.

DOI: 10.1080/09362835.2015.1064415

This study provides a conservative estimate of the prevalence of FAS and FASD and the associated special education costs for educating these students in Canadian elementary and middle schools in 2011-2012. The estimates were based on (a) information collected from surveys sent to each Minister of Education and (b) existing data from Ministry of Education websites and the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey from 2006:

  1. The number of total students in Canadian elementary and middle schools is 3.7 million,
  2. The number of children with disabilities in Canadian elementary and middle schools  is 169 300,
  3.  The number of children receiving special education in Canadian elementary and middle schools is 73 700,
  4. The average cost of special education per child ranges from $7976 to $9220,
  5. The oft-cited prevalence of FAS (1 in 1000) and FASD (9 in 1000), and
  6. Data from Newfoundland and Labrador Dept of Education who reported the prevalence of FAS among children receiving special education to be 1%.

From these numbers, the authors estimated 724 children with FAS received special education and 6520 children with FASD received special education in Canadian elementary and middle schools in 2011-2012. They estimated a cost of $5.9 million for the  FAS group and $53.5 million for the FASD group (which includes FAS cases).

Aside from Newfoundland and Labrador, the exact number of students with FASD receiving special education in each province was not reported and the estimated costs for special education were not specific  FASD; therefore, the authors clearly state their results are conservative and likely underestimates. Additional reasons the cost is likely an underestimate include:

  1. The under diagnosis of FASD,
  2. The omission of high school data,
  3. The omission of the cost of determining special education eligibility (e.g., psychological assessment), and
  4. The omission of special education teacher professional development.

Nevertheless, this working estimate should alert school systems to the high financial and educational needs associated with FASD. Several provinces and territories have resource guides for teaching students for FASD (posted below) and professional development programs (e.g., POPFASD Educator Training, Engaging All Learners). However, the authors call for more research to better understand the educational needs of students with FASD and more training for teachers to deliver optimal intervention strategies and prevention messages.

What do these prevalence and cost estimates say to you? Do you have a favourite resource for educators? 

The CanFASD Family Advisory Committee has developed a resource for family members looking for information about educational supports for their children, organized by province. The resource can be found here on the CanFASD website:

Some Additional Resources (many more in the link above):







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