Video: Unique Needs of Students with FASD

This video identifies the unique needs, developmental characteristics, motivations, skills and behaviours of people with FASD.

About this video

Production date: February 11, 2009
Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Presenter: Dwaine Souveny, MSc
Download slide notes for this video (PDF, 23 pages)

As an educational psychologist and certified coach, Dwaine works with children, families and educators impacted by FASD. Dwaine and his family have lived a personal experience through an adopted child with FASD. He has contributed to Alberta Education publications including ‘Teaching Students with FASD’ and the series of manuals, ‘Promoting Positive Behaviour in Alberta Schools’. He’s the co-author of the popular resource book ‘ABC’s for Success: Attention Deficit Disorders’.


This video will help you to understand:

  • developmental characteristics of people with FASD
  • the difference between motivation and skill development
  • how beliefs impact behavioural success


  1. Responding to student needs (7:38)
  2. Attention (7:29)
  3. Sensory integration (17:32)
  4. Social skills (16:11)
  5. Transitions (7:52)
  6. Emotional and behavioural regulation (21:07)
  7. Consequences (15:29)
  8. Beliefs (16:02)

Responding to student needs

Each student has their own strengths and limitations. Damage from FASD results in learning difficulties in areas such as:

  • attention
  • memory
  • sensory processing
  • emotional reactivity
  • social skills
  • behavioural regulation


Students with FASD often miss instructions, respond with answers that are not related, look attentive and focused but have trouble understanding and responding and are easily distracted.


  • provide desk carrel (enclosure for desk)
  • limit amount of material given to the student
  • provide a printed copy of instructions
  • repeat key concepts

Sensory integration

Normal brain: can block out outside sensory experiences

FASD brain: disorganization, confusion, emotional reactivity

Strategy: reduce sensory overload

  • for example: seams on clothing, unexpected touch can be bothersome
  • shoulder rub every 1/2 hour for a fidgety student
  • this calms sensory system (firm pressure)

Sound sensitivity: Auditory stimulation can be very bothersome; akin to fingernails on a blackboard


  • use a soft voice
  • head phones to reduce excess noise
  • calming music

Visual sensitivity: Bright, flickering lights


  • instruct in front of a blank wall
  • cover up certain areas in classroom when not in use

Social skills

Most social behavior is learned by watching other people.

FASD difficulties:

  • act younger
  • do not follow rules during games or in social situations
  • say inappropriate things or act in ways that make others uncomfortable

Actual Age: 18 (FASD)

Appears as age

Expressive language

Reading: Decoding

Reading comprehension

Emotional maturity

Physical maturity

Social skills

Living skills








Age appropriate expectations:

  • actual age is 6, but may act more like a 3 year old

Intentionally teach what others incidentally learn.

Tell, Show, Practice: teach social skills like you would math.

Sentence strip method:

  • short, clear instructions of what to do
  • what not to do
  • one short sentence per strip

Example 1

Example 2

1.   I get upset

2.   I fold my hands together

3.   I do not hit

4.   I say that I am upset

1.   I meet someone

2.   I shake their hand

3.   I do not hug

4.   I say hello

Give hugs to family members, not strangers.

Standing at arm’s length away is appropriate personal space.


Early school years: changing activities

Middle school: changing classes

Later: leaving home

It is important to teach and rehearse new situations and to learn new skills and strategies for each transition.

Emotional and behavioural regulation

Refers to age appropriate ability to control one’s activity level and moderate emotions in response to internal or external stimuli.

Emotional contagion is the tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others.

Reactive response means an individual is not able to regulate.


  • be aware of the emotions you are conveying
  • be aware of the emotions that you are receiving
  • do not hide emotions – rather, label them and teach ways of dealing with them
  • teach that anger is an emotion we all have and how to deal with it

Social scripts:

  • can be used with 4, 8, 12, etc. year old
  • a written list of what and how to do something step by step
  • tell, show, role play, practice, talk


“I won’t” à “I can’t” à “I can to the best of my ability with support and assistance.”

Consequences have limited effectiveness with children with FASD

  • can’t remember and have trouble linking behaviour and consequence
  • give the opportunity to learn through practice


  • use a token system
  • give compliments received tokens
  • 3 tokens = popcorn on movie night
  • if swearing was used, token take away
  • loss of token works as an immediate reminder


Self-fulfilling prophecy: you become who you believe you are.

Get to see themselves in the mirror of parent’s eyes, peers eyes, their own eyes.

Sally had many diagnoses, and was seen as non-compliant. As long as others saw her as her disorders, that is what she would be.

You see what you expect to see.

Strengths of FASD

Build on the strengths of FASD:

  • concrete thinkers
  • creative, artistic, musical
  • learn by doing
  • energetic and involved
  • good sense of humour
  • strong sense of self
  • preservative and persistent
  • athletic, spontaneous
  • strong visual memory
  • friendly: outgoing, gregarious, trusting
  • loving: caring, kind, concerned, sensitive, loyal, faithful
  • affectionate
  • compassionate
  • mechanical
  • curious, questioning, sense of wonder
  • rich fantasy life

Think of a child you work with who has FASD. Think of 10 things you like about them. Tell them and remind them.

Shift from stopping problem behaviours to preventing them.


Teaching students with FASD: Building strengths, creating hope’, Alberta Learning 2004

Malbin, D. (2002) Trying Differently Rather than Harder. 2nd Edition. Portland, Oregon: FASCETS.

Modified: 2015-09-09
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