Special Education

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Social Skills

Students with FAS/E are often socially immature compared to their peers. Because of their small stature, we may expect them to act like younger children. They often choose to play with younger children because they have the same interests. However, they have a strong desire to be accepted by their peers. They can be sensitive and caring. Yet, eventually, their behaviour becomes unacceptable: bugging people, going too far, or acting silly.

With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, they may be unable to wait their turn or be overly intrusive. They do not perceive the social cues from others that say, “I’m getting angry” or “you’re being inappropriate.” Whatever happens is perceived as “somebody else’s fault.” They may misinterpret other peoples’ emotions, and they exhibit the wrong emotion for the situation. Often, they do not realize the implications of their actions on others. As a result, they need help in making and keeping friends. Helping the other students in the classroom through teaching acceptance of differences, creating circles of friends for students with FAS/E, and giving specific and immediate feedback may help to develop classroom relationships.

At all ages, many children with FAS/E are overly friendly. They are too easily approached by strangers — anyone who talks to them at a bus stop is instantly their best friend. Their desire to be accepted, and their difficulty making good choices, means their peers or adults can easily lead them into inappropriate behaviour. This means that at all ages, these students require greater supervision than their peers.

Our long-term goal for all our students is for them to learn to take responsibility. This is not something that anyone can impose on them; it comes about only through a long process of maturation and learning. The neurological disability of FAS/E makes taking responsibility particularly difficult. Many schools offer social-skills training programs, which are appropriate because they systematically promote pro-social behaviour. In the long run, good judgment, social skills, and adaptive skills are the most important preparation for independent living.

Some students with FAS/E have had unstable family situations, multiple home placements, and a background of possible abuse or neglect. In order to provide positive and consistent support, it is important to understand the student’s social-emotional history and to work with other professionals involved in his or her care. The goal should be to help develop the child’s positive self-esteem, which is a critical ingredient for success at all levels.


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