Today is the International Day of Education. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, this holiday celebrates the role of education in achieving global peace and sustainable development.
Education is a Human Right
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “everyone has the right to education.” This includes every person with a disability, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Merely offering educational opportunities is not enough; the United Nations calls for “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all”.
In Canada we have a strong education system. However, it doesn’t always consider the various needs of all learners. People with FASD face challenges in our education system due to their unique needs, symptoms, and characteristics, but these challenges are often left unaddressed in school.
Barriers to Education
Students with FASD will not have access to inclusive, equitable, quality education until their unique strengths and challenges are understood and their unique needs are met. They face many barriers to quality education, including a lack of awareness and understanding of FASD, delayed assessment or misdiagnosis, and lack of accommodations to address their disability.
Students with FASD are uniquely impacted by deficits in their communication, social, behavioural, academic, and executive functioning skills because of prenatal alcohol exposure. When unsupported, individuals with FASD are known to struggle with mathematics, abstract thinking, and language comprehension.
FASD is challenging to diagnose. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can lead to delayed understanding and support in the education system. It can also place stress on the student and family. What’s more, if teachers are unaware of the root of their needs and challenges, they are unable to effectively address them. Early identification and diagnosis are important to supporting healthy outcomes for those with FASD.
An important barrier to inclusive education often a lack of awareness and understanding of FASD in schools. It is not uncommon for individuals with FASD to have IQs within the normal range (based on standardized testing). Deficits are not always immediately obvious, which means that certain behaviours that are a product of their disability may be blamed on poor parenting or behavioural problems. Teachers and support staff may think the child is lazy, inattentive, or not trying hard enough, when, in reality, they cannot remember instructions or are overstimulated.
Research suggests that when educators understand these behaviours are brain-based and the result of prenatal alcohol exposure, they experience less confusion and frustration. Staff who understand their behaviour isn’t willful or disrespectful can provide the accommodations and support to address each student’s needs. School staff need FASD-specific training to learn how to identify FASD in the classroom and support success for these students.
Reducing Secondary Outcomes
Education is important for children with FASD because it can reduce the risk of secondary outcomes. Not a direct result of their disability, these secondary adverse outcomes may include dropping out of school, involvement with the criminal justice system, mental health issues, and substance use problems. Children with FASD are more likely to have successful and accomplished academic and personal lifestyles when their educational needs are addressed.
Strategies for Success
Educators and school staff can support students with FASD in a variety of ways so they may succeed. Here are some starting points:
- All students with FASD have strengths. Build on their individual strengths rather than focus on challenges.
- All staff and volunteers at school and in after-school programming need to have ongoing and consistent FASD training, such as the CanFASD School Staff course, in order to understand these children’s strengths and needs and jumpstart successful interventions.
- Adjust expectations for students with FASD to create a “good fit.” All students will need a variety of accommodations, and some may require modifications. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) should reflect a student’s individuality.
- A student with FASD who genuinely feels liked, safe and welcome at school will be more successful.
- Provide ongoing support and start accommodations without a diagnosis.
The United Nations state: “Education is a human right, a public good, and a public responsibility.” By working together, schools and families can support and maintain an education system that is inclusive to all. It is our public responsibility to do so. If you have any questions or require more information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.