As early childhood educators, we come from a strong foundation of inclusive practice and seek to support all children in our care. Although this is embedded in our learning frameworks and in the National Quality Standards, doing this well requires a strong understanding of children’s needs. With almost one in four pregnancies unplanned, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an often-undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder that is sometimes referred to as the ‘invisible disability’. This guide and collection of resources, developed by Early Childhood Australia and NOFASD Australia, has been designed to help build educator knowledge, skills and understanding.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD, is a name given to a range of brain-based impairments that result from alcohol exposure when a fetus is in the womb. Often described as an invisible disability, a person with FASD will need lifelong support, including during the early stages of development. Evidence shows that implementation of appropriate supports at an early age results in better long-term outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as FASD.
Those working within the early childhood education and care sector play a significant and vital role in supporting children and families as they navigate their way through the first years of life. Early Childhood Australia and NOFASD Australia have, in partnership, developed this educator guide to offer early childhood professionals research-based strategies designed to meet the diverse needs of children with FASD.
The guide explains what FASD is, how it occurs, its characteristics, and diagnostic criteria and pathways. Because FASD is a spectrum-based disorder, children will have different support needs. This guide offers educators access to a combination of research-based evidence and stories of lived experience to reinforce inclusive practice through:
- case studies
- videos and reflective scenarios
- subject matter experts
- practical and achievable strategies.
As early childhood professionals, we are often faced with many situations where families of children may have been judged or not listened to in the past. In the context of FASD, there may be many reasons for prenatal exposure to alcohol.
The poster has been designed to be eye-catching and easy to read. It is one resource for educators to use within services to encourage families to seek out support, and has been designed to reinforce messages such as:
- families are experts on their own children
- the importance of early intervention for children with neurodevelopmental disorders
- an introduction to the concept of neurodevelopmental disorders
- educators will respond to any concerns professionally, and all conversations will be private and confidential
- educators will be non-judgemental in their responses to families.
As educators, we are a trusted source of expertise and knowledge. Families will come to us to discuss any concerns and begin to foster a strong relationship based on open and transparent communication. For more information regarding how to incorporate inclusive practice and partnerships with families, we recommend you refer to the educator guide Through Different Eyes: Understanding young children living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Educators have an ethical responsibility to be respectful of the differences within each family and to engage in co-constructed learning and decision making. As early childhood professionals, we know that forming trusting partnerships with families is critical. We also know that families are vulnerable by coming to someone and discussing concerns they may have about their child’s development. It is vital to remember that it is not an educator’s role to diagnose a child. If a family suspects their child has FASD, they are often aware of the potential stigma associated with receiving a diagnosis. Being there to support each family and child as they go through this journey, and ensuring the child is a part of a community, will help families and children to develop a sense of belonging.
Each family is unique and on their own journey. While some families may be aware of particular behaviours and development differences in their child and are ready to take the next step in approaching an allied health professional, others may be considering this for the first time. When approached by a family who wants to know a bit more about FASD, or another spectrum-based disorder, it is always helpful to have resources to provide them.
If you are looking for further information regarding how to support families and ensure you value the relationship between a family and their child, refer to the educator guide Through Different Eyes: Understanding children living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
The following videos support the Through Different Eyes: Understanding children living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder educator guide: