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Defining Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Within the Educational Setting

A Motivational Framework

By VNessa ErlenePublished 3 years ago 9 min read
Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

Early behaviorists concluded that the acquisition of knowledge was the same in all organisms. They hypothesized that one could study rats and understand how an organism learns. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), has proven this hypothesis wrong. FAS was first studied in 1973. It has since then been discovered to be the leading cause of mental deficits in the United States.

Research into the effect that FASD has on the educational system is limited. It is known that all areas of the brain are affected by fetal exposure to alcohol. This results in children with FAS not processing, storing, or retrieving information normally. The results are an academic phenomenon that could only be explained using attribution theory after a diagnosis of FASD is made. Until this is accomplished, there will continue to be a decline in academic performance and psychological need satisfaction within schools. One result of this decline is teacher dissatisfaction that can be seen through the high rate of teacher turnover and the constant demands for higher salaries.

Motivating Governments

Statistics show that the rate of FASD among children in the United States is

approximately 2 to 5 %. Independent studies, however, have shown rates as high as 50% in some areas. The annual cost of caring for each child can exceed two million dollars. This need for care does not diminish when the child reaches adulthood. Adults with FASD have adaptive behavior and social problems that require attention throughout their lives. This is, for the most part, accomplished through state and federally-funded programs.

Motivating government officials in the direction of an early diagnosis requires understanding the implications of this cost when viewed with the correct statistics. This involves the cost from infancy through adulthood and would include the number of adults with FASD incarcerated within the prison systems and the cost of secondary disabilities that occur with the diagnosis of FAS. The most effective way to accomplish this is through extrinsic motivation in money and possible fame. Extrinsic motivation is seen as negative unless balanced with intrinsic motivation. However, the humanitarian implications of an early diagnosis for these children is the balancing agent.

Motivating School Districts

The first obstacle encountered within a school district is money, and the second will be time. These are both extrinsic factors that most districts feel are out of their control already. The way to surmount this obstacle is to add the intrinsic factors of teacher well-being and the community's overall benefit.

A behaviorist model of stimuli-response can be presented to the school board to show them the relationships between early diagnosis and overall school achievement. Many districts in the United States function under state intervention threat because of low state test scores. The early diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome limits the liability associated with low test scores.

Children with alcohol exposure, even in low amounts, very often have lower IQs. When the IQ is below seventy, the student qualifies for special education, and the test scores are reflected as such. IQ testing is rarely done, and the lower IQ goes unnoticed or is discovered too late for the student to get the inventions they need to succeed on state tests. A relatively cost-effective way to eliminate this one problem is to make a mandatory federal implementation of IQ testing for a five-year period. This would give a broad sampling of data that the state governments could use to make further decisions.

The NWEA testing system is yet one more effective way to determine the academic needs of a student. This test can be administered three times a year as a benchmark test. When a child is seen to be more than one grade level behind by second grade, then other factors should be considered as to why this is occurring. The informed, educated district can then use these multiple data points to make an informal diagnosis of FASD/undiagnosed learning disability without liability. These two simple solutions can offer a base for which teachers can start to unfold each student's capabilities and then plan accordingly.

Intentions cause behaviors, and these can, over time, become patterns. The cost of the newest, most effective curriculum can be seen to fit this pattern because it is purchased over and over with the best of intentions. This, in time, will become a pattern of crisis intervention and the rush for the ultimate curriculum fix all. The curriculum itself is expensive. The cost of formal training for teachers adds to the budgeting frenzy incurred every time the curriculum is changed.

FAS presents a problem that is often linked to the curriculum when it should not be. Informally Diagnosing FAS and implementing interventions will allow for the autonomy that has been taken out of the classroom as well. When FAS students' psychological needs are finally met, this will, in turn, allow for the teachers' psychological needs to be met as well. The most under-utilized resource for FASD students is the occupational therapist. Children with FASD have sensory processing difficulties. The occupational therapist can use sensory-based interventions and a modified environment to help students with processing difficulties. This requires no additional funding or resources from the district.

Teacher Retention

As noted above, the psychological needs of the teachers need to be met as well. One must consider the dichotomy of a teacher's life in just one day and then consider that there are one-hundred and eighty days in a teacher's year excluding summer school. The teacher must interact on a professional level with the administration and staff daily. A teacher must maintain a personal yet academic relationship with sometimes as many as thirty-five students within the classroom. This would seem overwhelming, but when combined with the fact that teachers are also dealing with these student's parents daily, it can be seen that their job becomes almost impossible.

When fetal alcohol syndrome is prevalent in the classroom, all these relationships are very stressful and can affect everyone's personal motivation. In areas where the FASD percentages are high, the teacher turnover rate has been seen to be as much as forty percent per year. This means the district will spend more money to recruit, hire, and train new teachers. The juggling of money from one funding source to the next cannot sustain the outflux of teachers and the demand for higher pay indefinitely.

A root analysis into the cause of teacher dissatisfaction would show the stress of teaching children with undiagnosed learning disabilities and loss of self-efficacy. This leads to one of the major contributing factors. This affects the stability of the environment, not only in the classroom but of the entire school. The school can quickly adopt a culture of revolving doors for teachers.

Professional development in brain-based learning and fetal alcohol syndrome interventions is one way of giving the teacher resources to use in the classroom. This professional training should be ongoing throughout the year and should be used in the years to come for new staff members. When possible, this can be accomplished by using videos with follow-up questions. However, the questions must allow the teacher to fully synthesize what they have learned to be considered a learning opportunity. These videos can be viewed during grade-level meetings. They should be linked to 301 hours to motivate teachers to participate fully. This method is a cost-effective way to incorporate much-needed professional training and can be used across many domains.

Community Implications

Self-Determination Theory explores the fact that individuals can become alienated or passive. This passivity or apathy is often seen in communities where alcohol abuse is prevalent. There also exist passive behaviors in homes where alcohol is abused even within stable community structures. The communities and individuals within the communities need intrinsic motivation to combat FAS's effect on the children, youth, and ultimately adults in the community. This becomes increasingly difficult in communities with generational alcohol abuse and poverty. The money will always be an issue with any community project. However, putting a twenty-year goal to stop the generational abuse of alcohol and drugs would ultimately save money. This goal must include everyone in the community and ensure that the youth are being constantly channeled away from addictive behaviors. This can be accomplished mainly through schools. Schools are the main part of our culture. When the culture of counter-addiction is adopted in the schools, it will overflow into the community.

Motivating Teachers

Motivated a teacher requires a great deal of understanding of the environment that they function within daily. However, their motivation will ultimately motivate students. Students need peers and teachers that they can admire and respect. A motivated teacher will become this beacon of admiration and respect that students need. Motivating teachers should be easy because it can be done with intrinsic factors, allowing them autonomy. However, it is not an easy task because of time constraints and external stressors that teachers encounter every day. Therefore, diagnosing FASD is an important first step.

Teachers are not trained in attribution theory and do not have time to inquire

into every phenomenon that presents itself in their classroom. FASD children present a unique set of behaviors caused by their social inconsistencies and lack of cognition. When teachers are given the resources to enable these students to learn, the motivation will present itself daily and be maintained with further intervention. Currently, teachers are required to plan lessons and interventions for students with FAS without knowing the full extent of their memory deficits or cognitive abilities. This, combined with the resulting poor test scores, is a leading cause of teacher dissatisfaction.

Motivating Students

Students need peers and role models that they can respect to be motivated. When working with FASD students, they must have a stable environment. This can be achieved with situation-behavior relationships in the form of if-then. These will help the student visualize that "if" they do something, be it positive or negative, "then" there will be a consequence of their behavior.

Students can also be motivated to become part of the community intervention for FASD. Older students should understand the implications of drinking and the effect it has on the unborn fetus. These students will become the next generation to either contribute to the FASD problem or prevent it from happening in the future. Students with FASD often present with an oppositional defiant disorder, low IQ, and impaired memory retention. Motivating them can be extremely difficult and does not improve as the student gets older. Therefore early diagnosis and intervention are imperative for their success.


By starting at the top of the educational system and motivating in a downward trend, FASD can not only be diagnosed early to allow for interventions to be put in place but can be eradicated. The process of gathering data is the most difficult when combating FASD. It has become apparent that waiting for this to be accomplished at the clinical level impedes the entire process. The next step would be to start diagnosing at the educational level. There are software programs that diagnose FAS based on facial features that could be used with classroom data to make a reliable diagnosis of FASD for every student in kindergarten through third grade in the United States. This software is very inexpensive. When combined with other forms of data such as IQ testing and benchmark data, it can be very reliable. This is a straightforward solution to FAS's enormous academic performance and psychological needs satisfaction within public school systems.

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About the Creator

VNessa Erlene

A Ph.D. student and Celtic Priestess who is an explorer of knowledge, spirituality, and political incorrectness. Your voice and knowledge is your power!

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