Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Education

Fransiska Isaacks

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)?

Though it may sound like a mouthful, what is it exactly? The broad term ‘FASDs’ refers to what might happen when a mother drinks alcohol while pregnant.

These effects can have long-term consequences and include learning, behavioural, mental, and/or physical problems.

Alcohol is a teratogen – a substance that can cross the placenta and obstruct the foetus’s proper growth.

Although the harm caused by FASDs may differ from person to person, it is frequently irreversible.

Different social, behavioural and financial ramifications result from these birth abnormalities for the child, their family and community.

To understand the prevalence of FASDs in Namibia, one must assess health promotion on FASDs.

This entails evaluating the availability and effectiveness of initiatives aimed at educating Namibians, especially mothers, about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the potential consequences for the unborn child.

Is enough information material about FASDs provided to mothers at health centres, either as leaflets or pamphlets, as happens with other health conditions such as HIV-AIDS?

This not only affects the uninformed mother about the dangers of alcohol, thereby putting the life of the unborn child at risk, but has a significant negative effect on the child’s education later in life.


Children with FASDs often experience learning difficulties, including problems with memory, attention to detail and information processing.

They may struggle with academic tasks such as reading, writing and math.

This later results in slow learning and a tendency to easily forget what is learned.

They become vague, and tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. Although cognitive deficits may be evident early on, learning and academic problems may become especially significant during early and middle childhood. Children with FASDs are at increased risk of learning disorders, and may require additional support, and specialised teaching strategies to accommodate their unique learning needs.

Prenatal alcohol exposure can result in delays in motor development, which results in fine motor deficits, poor balance and poor coordination – in some cases they struggle to grip a pencil, tie shoelaces or hande scissors.

Children with FASDs may require additional support, and specialised teaching strategies to accommodate their unique learning needs.

Without additional support, it is difficult to bring children affected by FASDs to the same level as the rest of a class: Educating a child requires support from parents, teachers and the community.

Children with FASDs usually show some degree of language disability or delayed language development and speech.

They often face challenges in communicating; they often develop language skills at a slower rate than normal.

They may not use the vocabulary (semantics) or grammatically complex language structures (syntax) expected for their age.
Sometimes they may know a word but cannot retrieve it from memory.

Difficulties with language affects social communication and academic learning.

The safest way for a mother to ensure there is no harm to her unborn child from alcohol consumption is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

There is no safe amount of alcohol, no safe type of alcohol and no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Antenatal care and FASDs awareness can be extended into the formal education system.

Namibia has an inclusive education system, thus it is important for teachers to learn about FASDs, its challenges and how to cater for children suffering from FASDs.

Healthcare providers have a role to play in diagnosing babies born with FASDs, communicating this to parents and providing follow-up care.

Parents should be attentive to their children’s development needs and communicate any irregularities to their children’s educators.

An open relationship with a teacher can help co-operative planning and positive communication and lay the groundwork for effective teaching and learning between teacher, child and parent.

‘FASDs co-education’, as I call it, can create an intellectual, physical, social and emotional environment which will foster a child’s skills development, knowledge, communication, self- esteem and lifelong learning.

Implementing a ‘Healthy Mother with Sober Habits, Healthy Baby Programme’ in Namibia will greatly help unborn children from the impact of an invisible disability that has permanently crippling consequences.

  • * Fransiska Isaacks is a final year student at the International University of Management: Education in pre/junior primary

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