Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the Classroom

Common Classroom Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Student With Head on Desk
FAS Symptoms Show Up in the Classroom. © Getty Images

Some or all of these common classroom symptoms may appear in children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects:

  • Often described as having 'low motivation,' 'not paying attention,' or 'daydreaming' (distractibility). Soft neurological signs frequently mistaken for lack of effort, laziness, defiance or low self-esteem.
  • May be ultrasensitive to noise, light, texture (auditory, visual or tactile defensiveness), and over or under sensitive to pain. May ask, "What was that?", make off-the-wall comments about little things, seem picky, avoid eye contact (gaze aversion).
  • Need more reteaching or seem to be starting from scratch (memory deficits). They tend to hide this not wanting to look different from other kids or be teased as stupid.
  • May master tasks one day, be unable to retrieve same skills a few days later (sporadic mastery): "I know I know it, but I just can't do it!" It distresses them to be unable to rely on their minds to recall what they learned when they need to (memory deficits).
  • Unexpected schedule changes may disorient them (sequencing problems). Rearranging seating or decorations may precipitate anxiety and distress, increase loss of belongings and disorganization (strongly visually / kinesthetically cued).
  • Discouraged, demotivated by incentives that work for many other children with same intelligence level; ie, grades, sticker charts. Variability of performance related to their central nervous system impairments (poor state regulation, overstimulation), rather than their level of desire to achieve: "I work just as hard on a "D" test, as I do on the days I get an "A"; so the grades don't help me."
  • May have trouble changing activities, resist redirection (disregulation, state rigidity), show irritability, stubbornness or repetitive speech or behavior (perseveration) as signs of distress.
  • Though interested in a project, may not know how to start in (problems with differentiating, prioritizing information).
  • Difficulty seeing patterns, trouble understanding cause and effect; ie can make verbal contract about schoolwork without understanding actions that support it (information processing deficits). Note: The obvious is not necessarily obvious to them!
  • Require external prompts and cues longer than peers (memory deficits), despite efforts to be self-sufficient and show competence. Keep directives simple; use as few words as possible. Give instructions one at a time. May need some visual cues as prompts.