Teachers face different brains every moment of their lives. Teachers need to know about fetal alcohol because it is in every classroom. The names may change depending on fashion. It is a brain based physical disability.
I suggest teachers use the mnemonic ALARM to help identify those with brain based difficulties.
A stands for adaptive behaviours
L stands for learning and language
A stands for attention
R stands for reasoning
M stands for memory
A few questions, observations, reports in these various domains will give you a good idea of the extant of the brain dysfunction. We teach this mnemonic to police officers. And for the same reasons it works for teachers. As Diane Malbin says: try differently because trying harder does not work and will wear you out. You will stress yourself to death unless you focus on brain function more than bad behaviour.
There is good news that we set out in our fabulous new animated film (HYPERLINK) for teachers. I have learned from GREAT TEACHERS I HAVE HAD that there are strategies that have been successful in creating success in classrooms.
Dr. Sterling Clarren M.D. speaks about creating an EXTERNAL BRAIN for those with fetal alcohol. The concept is simple: a committee of good hearted folks who can stand in for the missing brain cells. In legal circles we use the EXTERNAL BRAIN to remind of probation appointments, to repeat endlessly the terms of the probation order, to remind the person of NO GO and NO CONTACT orders. It works.
In the classroom the external brain can be used with similar success to remind the students who have a brain based physical disability of what is appropriate behaviour. Some schools call it the buddy system, peer counselling. I prefer, YOUR FRIEND. Classroom discipline, class control, call it what you will is always an issue for the same reasons grownups need police.
And everyone knows everyone needs friends. Friends remind us of the social rules. Friends can grab us by the arm and say: “NO…do not….” There is a kindness in friendship that, in my opinion, people with fetal alcohol thirst for and want. Loving kindness comes first from friends, not family.
Thus find ways to create the classroom version of designated drivers…create designated friends….an external brain.
Some people need help following the rules. Often people with fetal alcohol would rather act bad, be disruptive than admit non comprehension. Teachers need to notice the difference between non comprehension and noncompliance. It is easier to be the class clown than the class dummy.
I do not mean to replace the teacher’s authority with a student voice. NO. Most people with fetal alcohol do not have friends; do not have the social network that propels us to follow rules because we all want to belong (to something). We (the complete brained) have learned that complying with social rules means social success.
I know a man in Chicago who had to pay kids in his neighbourhood to come to his adopted son’s birthday parties. Writing those words hurts. 20 years later the man is stilling struggling to keep his son out of jail and his son’s lack of friends is the son’s biggest impediment to success. Another client, this one with money (lots of money), pays a full time social worker to be a friend to her son. It works. No more offenses! No more jail.
If teachers can create structured friendships, in the class room, sitting beside or near students who do not get various messages, teachers are creating success. Many kids with fetal alcohol are bright and capable. Some have specific disabilities that impact classroom behaviour…light and noise sensitivities, slower processing pace, easily frustrated and the like. Teachers may not know the technical names for each disability. They do know that these kids are alone in their pain…and strike out to disrupt the classroom.
I recommend all teachers buy two inexpensive books by Diane Malbin of www.fascets.org. The first is the best. It is 80 pages and called: Trying Differently Rather than Harder. The second is a coil ring binder type of book of 220 pages called Fetal Alcohol/Neurobehavioural Conditions: Understanding and application of a brain based approach. A collection of information for parents and professionals.
Every time I speak in public I have at hand these two books. My coil ring book is festooned with multi – coloured stickees marking the hot pages.
Some other books I have learned and been told by teachers that are helpful are:
Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers… hit me like a freight train in university!
Spark by John Ratey M. D… this is a special book, not because the author teaches at Harvard, no. It is terrific because a Canadian teacher intuitively already knew this EXERCISE stuff and uses it in her classroom in city park collegiate in Saskatoon. And because CBC made an hour long film about her showing how she created success with all the “special kids” that were “left behind”. Her name is Allison Cameron and someone should give her the Nobel Prize. One of the tools she used was exercise! Get the Film… it is in the CBC archives, or on the internet.
The BEST resource is free, it is on the internet. Deb Evensen wrote the book called Making a Difference for the Yukon govt, specifically for teachers struggling with kids with fetal alcohol. The Saskatchewan government, those stubble jumpers, have put on line complete K to 12 curricula specifically for students with fetal alcohol.
Resources are only as good as the user. In my experience when I speak two groups immediately get fetal alcohol: cops and teachers. And they get it because they work hard at building community. I believe teachers are the source for the truism: EVERYONE DOES BETTER WHEN EVERYONE DOES BETTER.
Of course there are bad teachers. As there are bad cops, bad doctors, bad electricians, and bad politicians like Christy Clark. Crime prevention begins in the classroom. Safe communities are created first in the classroom and especially when difficult students have friends!