Teaching Kids About FASD

2002 Teresa Kellerman

Q: I am preparing a workshop on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) for youth ages 9-11, and I'm a bit stumped for activities to do with them. You always seem to have such great ideas that I thought that I ask you for advice. --Laurie

A: Laurie, I would first tell a story about a child (their age) who has some problems with school and behavior. Actually, I think I would tell two stories, one about a girl with full FAS and one about a boy with FAE. Give them names. You can get real stories and photos from the FAS Stars page (http://come-over.to/fasstar/ ). But don't tell them what is wrong with them at first. Talk about their problems and how life is for them. Tell them that the child tries to be good, but just is not able to remember rules or follow directions, and gets into trouble again and again. Then tell them the reason they have behavior problems, the reason they cannot control their behavior, is because there was some damage done to their brain a long time ago.

But you asked me for activities, not a lesson plan. LOL. Sorry. Let's see. I would take a plastic wine glass, break an egg into it, then pour alcohol over the top, at the beginning of the workshop, and by the end of the workshop they will see how the alcohol "cooks" the egg, and that is how alcohol can damage their brains. And then talk about the developing baby's brain that is messed up from the alcohol that mom drinks.

If you take in a baby doll, you can show them how a baby with FAS does not want to be held or cuddled, but still cries a lot and cannot be comforted, and does not take a bottle very well, and does not bond well to the mother.

Take in an empty baby bottle (I use the little plastic ones), and a mini bottle of liquor (I pour out the liquor and use tea or watered down coffee instead, because of school restrictions on bringing alcohol onto the school campus). I pour the "liquor" into the baby bottle and hold it up and ask, "Would a mother feed this to her baby? Of course not. But that is what happens when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. When the mother takes a drink, the baby takes a drink. The alcohol in the baby's blood is the same level as the alcohol in the mother's blood."

I tell kids things like: "Alcohol can be good sometimes, and alcohol can be unhealthy sometimes." I remind them that the "safe" level for drinking for a man is two drinks and for a woman who is not pregnant is one drink. I would tell them that heavy drinking (more than the one-two drink limit) can cause problems in the body, especially how the brain functions.

One activity you could have them do is to take a piece of paper and ask them to write down all the problems in the world, "social problems." They will list things like war, child abuse, guns, violence, crime, gangs, drug abuse, smoking, divorce, cancer, etc. Then you can have them put a big red X on the ones for which alcohol may be a major factor: child abuse, guns, violence, crime, drug abuse, smoking, divorce, cancer. It could also be a factor in war, if you figure that in the military the rate of alcohol abuse is far greater than in the general population (according to govt. studies). Kids/adults who abuse drugs abuse alcohol as well (in almost all cases). I just think it's really important that kids get the message that alcohol is a dangerous drug that contributes to most of our serious problems. This is something that most teens and adults cannot see. The message has to go beyond merely warning against alcohol use during pregnancy. Let them know that guys who drink heavily in their teen years increase the risk of their children having serious problems (in general) because of how the drinking affects the guys while they are maturing.

After you give your talk, there are some activities you can do:

Ask them why they think people drink. The right answer is because it makes people feel good. It relaxes them and helps them forget their problems. But it also has harmful effects that can cause serious problems. Then have them make a list of ways to feel good without using alcohol or other drugs (use those exact words to reinforce that alcohol IS a drug). They can do this activity in teams.

I put together a game for teachers to use in class, but it is geared to junior high and senior high students. (http://fasteen.com/game/) Hopefully I will get some funding to market it, but for now I allow use by volunteers for workshop presentations and teachers to use in the classroom. If this is a group of more than 5 kids, you can have them do the game in teams. You can draw the board scheme on the blackboard and draw where each team is placed on the game board.

Another team activity you can do is to go back to the story of the two kids with FAS and FAE, and do a "what if" scenario. What if the boy with FAE is not able to control his impulses or tell right from wrong and someone tells him to go push someone down on the playground. Or what if the girl feels different and everyone teases her, what might happen (she could feel sad, lead to depression, want to kill herself, or she could feel angry and hit and push or say bad words and get into trouble).

There is an exercise that I devised several years ago for the workshops I do with teachers and other professionals to help them understand what it feels like to have Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), that most kids with FASD have. I tell everyone to take off their shoes and put their right shoe on their left foot and their left shoe on their right foot. And I have them put their watch on the opposite wrist. I have them take off their glasses, and maybe have them hold a piece of paper over one ear, while they do some writing or listening exercise. I usually read "Day in the Life of John" while they feel uncomfortable and cannot concentrate to listen to the story. You can adapt this for the kids maybe.

I have developed some puzzle activities for teens that I have not posted yet, but you can get them here: http://fasteen.com/puzzles.htm The "Natural High" would be a good one. Also the Feelings Puzzle can help them see how frustrating it is for kids who have FASD.

There are also some good links for alcohol education for kids here on my FAS Teen site: http://fasteen.com/

Well, that should be enough! Hope this helps.

Teresa Kellerman


FAS Community Resource Center