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Welcome to the website of the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (NOFASD) Australia.

NOFASD Australia Podcast

Pregnancy and Alcohol: The Surprising Reality

#34 FASD in an Early Childhood Setting with Christine and Sophie

Kurt is joined by Christine Brooks; an experienced teacher, NOFASD board member and carer of a child with FASD, and also Sophie; a biological mother of a child with FASD. Together they chat about FASD in the early childhood sector, the things to know about FASD in an early childhood setting, and the special resources that have been developed to help these educators develop an awareness and understanding of FASD.

For more information on the resources developed by Early Childhood Australia (ECA) in partnership with NOFASD Australia or to download your free copy of the resources, see: https://www.nofasd.org.au/service-providers/education/through-different-eyes/

For more information about FASD, please go to: https://www.nofasd.org.au/

Producers: Kurt Lewis, Louise Gray and Julie Flanagan

Interviewer: Kurt Lewis

Interviewees: Christine Brooks and Sophie

Narrator: Frances Price

The copyright is owned by NOFASD Australia.

All rights reserved – No reproduction or use of this content without written consent of Kurt Lewis and NOFASD Australia.

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the interviewee. NOFASD makes every effort to ensure all content is free from judgement and stigma. NOFASD’s mission includes reducing stigma for families and individuals impacted by FASD.

Christine Brooks Biography

Christine is a retired primary school teacher; a NOFASD Board member with a special interest in early childhood education, and also actively involved in facilitating NOFASD’s online support groups for parents and caregivers. She worked for a time in a remote Northern Territory community and is a foster carer for a teenager with FASD from that community. Christine is passionate about raising awareness of FASD and regularly makes presentations to educators in both primary and high schools.

Podcast Transcript

Frances (00:03):

How much do you know about the effects of alcohol during pregnancy? The reality may surprise you.

Alcohol exposure while in the womb can damage the brain of the developing baby, causing it to develop Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD. It may lead to lifelong physical, and/or neuro-developmental impairments, such as problems with memory, attention, cause and effect reasoning, and difficulties in adapting to situations.

For such an impactful disorder it is rarely spoken about in the popular media. NOFASD Australia’s podcast series is designed to raise awareness and understanding of FASD by giving listeners an opportunity to hear from those who have the deepest understanding of the impacts of FASD.

This is Pregnancy, Alcohol and FASD – The Surprising Reality.

(01:06):

Globally, there is increasing evidence about the importance of a child’s early years in providing a solid platform for their healthy development and ability to achieve to their best capacity.

Knowing this, NOFASD Australia led a major joint project with Early Childhood Australia to develop a suite of resources to inform educators in the early childhood sector about FASD. The ECA is the peak body representing early childhood educators across Australia and also has a focus on fostering best practice and providing ongoing learning resources and professional development for educators. The NOFASD team was delighted to work in conjunction with ECA on this important project which brought together expertise on the topic of FASD with that of the early childhood environment, in order to inform educators in the early childhood sector how best to support children with FASD.

In today’s podcast episode our interviewer, Kurt Lewis, will be speaking with two women who have personal insight into the value these resources will bring to the early childhood sector. Over to you now Kurt…

Kurt (02:24):

Welcome, welcome ladies and gentlemen, to this brand-new episode of “Pregnancy, Alcohol, and FASD, the Surprising Reality”. My name is Kurt Lewis, your friendly neighbourhood podcaster. I’m feeling excited as today’s topic is so important. We’re going to be discussing something which offers a lot of hope for improved outcomes for children who have FASD. Chatting with me today are Christine, an experienced educator and NOFASD board member, and Sophie, a mother of a child with FASD. How’s it going Sophie? How’s it going Christine?

Christine (03:04):

Great, thanks Kurt. Good to see you. Hi Sophie.

Sophie (03:07):

Hi Chris. Hi Kurt. Yeah, really good to see you. Thank you.

Kurt (03:11):

Well thank you guys for coming in today and discussing this. I think –
Christine: Pleasure.
Kurt
I think we’re to lend your experience to bring out why we need these resources. So, the first question, this is directed towards Sophie. Sophie, when your son was attending an early childhood centre, did you know at the time that he had FASD?

Sophie (03:31):

Well, actually we didn’t Kurt, know. In fact, we had no idea until round about through the last year of primary school that he was experiencing such difficulties, um, significant difficulties with his learning, and that would probably surprise a lot of people. However, because he met all of his developmental milestones and because he had really good expressive language, he had good balance, good motor skills and he appeared really capable and able to adapt to different situations in the early years. So, his learning challenges were interpreted to be his personality, you know, a very active, curious, friendly little boy. And if ever I did explore and ask people, you know, my peers, family and also clinicians, the responses I got in those early years were, well, he’ll grow out of it. You know, he’s, he’s just an active child. They were very common comments that I would receive.

Kurt (04:24):

Sophie, looking back, did your son struggle settling into the environment of attending an early childhood centre? Did you, or the educators, notice at the time that – anything at all that concerned you?

Sophie (04:40):

So, there is no one typical child – that’s really important to say that before I sort of say my next few words – who has FASD, or who is impacted by FASD, but for many that may be an issue, that settling and actually sort of dealing with an environment can be very complex. Whereas for our son, he attended quite a small community daycare centre in a small town. It was very outdoorsy so there was a lot of outdoor play, a lot of hands-on play, like nature play. It was a small centre so there were about 12 children there at any one time. And the staff worked very closely. It was a very, um, consistent environment with staff, only one or two sort of primary carers. So really when he was there, they got to know him really well, and really worked with his strengths and could see that he was very active, that he was very hands-on, and he loved to be outdoors.

(05:31):

So really all of the areas that could have been an issue possibly in other centres, you know, which may be busier or may be more indoor-based, really were sort of overlooked, I guess. Around about the age of three, although he was meeting his developmental milestones, that’s probably when it started to become a little bit more obvious that he didn’t sit still for very long and he was quite distracted. And probably key issues for him were that one day he may know his colours really well, and the next day he may have completely forgotten them, or forgotten several of them. And that was similar with sort of letters and numbers as well. Some days he could tell you all of them, and another day he may forget them. So, they were probably the first sort of real examples, you know, that started to come through.

Kurt (06:14):

Sophie, looking back now on your son’s experience, what sort of difference would it have made for him if the early childhood educators had known about FASD?

Sophie (06:25):

It’s a really good question actually, because obviously every child is different, every family – um – has a different experience around supporting their child in those early years. And I guess our son’s experiences on the whole were really quite positive, and as were ours as a family. And I feel that mostly because he was in a small childcare centre, um, with lower-than-average numbers, that, ah, the staff to child ratio was really low which was also great for him – he got quite a lot of individualised attention. So, he really did get his sort of needs met quite frequently and his strengths were really sort of – really pulled out and responded to, which made a huge difference. They were able to adapt to his learning style, so that made a difference too. And because it wasn’t a really loud or busy centre, really the distraction wasn’t too significant for him at that age. If he had’ve been in a setting that had more children or was larger, I think for him, you know, that would’ve been quite significantly different. So, I would encourage parents perhaps to consider sort of all of these factors when they’re considering childcare and for people to support them. And you know, doing the outdoor play, the nature play, riding balance bikes and climbing, and being on swings, all those kind of things made a massive difference to him.

(07:39):

What would’ve been different if the carers had known at the time? I guess they would’ve been able to sort of work with myself as a parent, and my son’s father as well, to really look more into perhaps what all the challenges were that he was experiencing. And I know the, the resources that have been produced with this project really kind of lean towards parents as well as the early educators. And I think that would’ve made a great difference for us in terms of being able to really sort of raise that awareness and for us even to perhaps perceive that there could be something else that we could do differently.

Kurt (08:11):

Definitely. That sounds like very good suggestions there. Christine, I know that you’ve had a lengthy career as a teacher. When you hear Sophie’s story, does it remind you of any experiences that you had with children you taught in the past? Did you know anything about FASD when you were teaching?

Christine (08:29):

Unfortunately, very little. I started teaching many years ago, Kurt, when there was little awareness of developmental disorders in schools. Um, gradually with time and uh, knowledge increased. There were never any resources that are available like now, and or even what we are just about to put on, around. And so, understanding started to grow gradually as teachers became more aware and more educated about the causes of different types of behaviour, what the triggers might have been and the importance of really giving strategies to support a child. This of course was a great help with classroom management, and I was a younger teacher then, and you know, we grabbed everything we could, but it was limited. Much of the focus was on autism or ASD, with few other developmental disorders even being considered – certainly not FASD. Sadly, I knew nothing about FASD for most of my teaching career.

(09:26):

And as Sophie mentioned about her own son, it is often easier to explain away minor concerns than see them as potential developmental delays, or characteristics that could indicate possible disability or need for an additional support. So, it was a little bit of a hit and miss situation, and you know, as I said, resources just weren’t available. I frequently reflect, even now, still, on my early teaching days and recall students that I had been worried about and I couldn’t find an explanation to explain why they needed support. I, it wasn’t until I was teaching my foster daughter that I began to notice how differently she took in information. It was interesting working one-on-one with her at home and seeing that she always was struggling to retain knowledge and, as Sophie mentioned about her son, she’d know it one day and then the next day it was totally gone. She lacked self-control and it was then I began to be actually see FASD. So yes, it’s been a wonderful, wonderful growth in the whole area.

Kurt (10:30):

And then that’s what this is really, it’s really a growth of knowledge. It’s in an essence that, you know, we’ve developing all this knowledge and we’re educating other people, other sectors about FASD, that need to know about FASD.

Christine (10:44):

Yes, yes.

Kurt (10:45):

So, so this question is for both Christine and Sophie: to all those people who are unaware why identifying and diagnosis is so important, what can these children have to gain from early diagnosis? What’s the point? Could you tell us for the listeners who you might not know much about FASD?

Christine (11:05):

Well, I, I’ve always been a strong advocate for early intervention because with early diagnosis, then it becomes possible to have early intervention. It can be really life-changing when skills to help learning and social interaction and self-management are introduced at an early age. It really does make a huge difference. And I’ve always loved the saying that says diagnosis is not a label, it is the key to understanding. I think that’s really important to keep that in mind. Research has, uh, shows that individuals who are diagnosed by the age of six, are two to four times less likely to develop secondary conditions, such as mental illness, trouble with the law, homelessness, that sort of thing. So early intervention can give access to FASD-specific services and above all bring an understanding to the child about why their life is so challenging. And I think that’s a really important thing to remember. The diagnosis helps parents and carers and professionals seek most suitable support for their child. If medication is helpful, then they will make sure that it’s geared exactly to the diagnosis, and of course make environmental changes. It also enables the child to be supported by those with an understanding about FASD and therefore grow with a strengths-based approach.

Sophie (12:21):

I think I’d absolutely echo everything that Christine has just said. And I think, you know, in our scenario and with many other parents and carers, I’ve had, um, the privilege of talking to, just having that earlier knowledge as, as a parent we would try different interventions that were sort of mainstream interventions and see different ways that we could help our son learn and you know, some of them unknowingly, because we didn’t know he had FASD, did work. But there were many others that if we had known earlier, we could have put in place which could really have helped his learning in those early years. And you know, I’ve had a quite a few people close to me say, oh, you know, why would you go for a diagnosis? What’s the point? You know, my son is now actually a, a teenager. But you know, we had, despite sort of speaking to a number of different professionals in the early years trying to find an answer, we never actually had an answer.

(13:10):

It took until things significantly changed for my son when he was in Year Six. So, when he was around 10 or 11 and the sort of expectations of his individual learning increased, he could no longer hide in the classroom, if you like, and sort of mirror other people’s behaviours. He actually needed to be quite autonomous and do things by himself. That’s when the gaps started to significantly show, because we’d always been involved in our son’s life throughout early years in school. And uh, we’d always checked in with teachers regularly. And, you know, a lot of people believe that somebody who has FASD will have a low IQ, whereas actually the majority of people will not have a low IQ, but have an average IQ. So, he would sit in mainstream school just below average and just have extra support. And we got sort of home tutoring and things like that. But when there was nobody else around as in, you know, his peers or us to help in the classroom, that’s when we started to see the difference. So, whilst he’s doing pretty well at the moment in his years, the difference that he could be in terms of where he is at now for his, you know, his challenges in daily life, if only if that had been tackled when he was much younger, that would be very, very different for his trajectory.

Kurt (14:20):

Thank you for that answer, Sophie. That’s really, really good. Uh, this is another question for the both of you. I know that you both, you know, had the opportunity to review the suite of resources that have been developed to inform early childhood educators about FASD. I’m wondering what are your comments each of you would have about these resources and in particular, whether you think this would make a difference to long-term outcomes for children. Would this be a benefit?

Christine (14:47):

I’m really excited about the new FASD resources and as you mentioned before, Kurt, they’ve been developed in collaboration with Early Childhood Australia and NOFASD Australia. So, the focus is directly onto the early childhood sector and it’s just one of its kind because nothing like this has been produced in such detail and such excellent quality. I wish they’d been around when I was an educator, I really do. They’re just brilliant to have. These resources have not been published to be used as a diagnostic tool and I think that’s important that we keep that in mind. I know educators will always refer to a medical professional if they were concerned. They do though, provide a wealth of knowledge about FASD in the early childhood setting, Sophie, maybe if you explain exactly what the resources consist of.

Sophie (15:34):

Thanks Chris. So, they, they include like a range of materials that have been developed and are available including a brochure, a poster, the guide for educators, there’s online videos and resources as well. And the guide and accompanying materials are designed to assist those working with children aged zero to five years. The brochure can be shared with educators to provide an introduction to the education guide. And then this guide also provides sort of the best practice strategies for parents or caregivers or people who are working with children who are perhaps falling behind or not quite reaching their developmental milestones in terms of age-appropriate behaviour, learning goals, physical expectations, socialisation, and emotional development. And the guide also provides web links to videos and additional online resources as well. And the poster can be placed on the walls for families to view in order to assist starting conversations around children’s development.

(16:33):

And really for me as a parent, if that had been around when, you know, my son was experiencing sort of differences with his learning, and challenges, that would, could have been, that ‘aha!’ moment for me, where I would’ve seen the resource. It could have been that I would then have approached an educator and said, “Well, do you think it could be anything like this? You know, could this be what my son’s experiencing?” At maybe two or three, that could have been something that I could have done to start that thinking process rather than it being when he was eight, nine, ten. So…

Christine (17:05):

Mm, absolutely, Sophie, it’s a real starting point for dialogue, isn’t it?

Sophie (17:09):

Very much.

Christine (17:09):

And these resources will be available online as well as in hard copy. So, I believe we’ve got hard copies going to virtually every early learning centre in Australia, which is absolutely wonderful.

Kurt (17:21):

That’s, ah, that’s a lot of centres right there. That’s a lot of copies.

Christine
Yes.

Kurt
So…

Christine (17:24):

It’s really, so please look out for it. The title is “Through Different Eyes”, and the title helps us to remind us that the children with FASD do see the world in a different way. And to truly understand FASD we need to put on our FASD lens and attempt to look at the world as they see it.

Sophie (17:41):

Absolutely. And, and I think sort of the, the title of the resource, like you say, Chris, “Through Different Eyes”, when I think about from my son’s perspective and many other parents and carers I’ve talked to, yeah, the way that he looked through his eyes and the way that he sees the world and, you know, saw the world as a three or four year old was just amazing. It was fascinating, the things that he would see and still sees that I didn’t. So, I think that’s a great title for the resource.

Kurt (18:05):

Definitely, I, a hundred percent, that is a very great title that really catches the eye. If you don’t mind me saying.
Christine
 <laugh>
Kurt
I’d like to thank you both, Christine and Sophie. Thank you so much for sitting down and discussing these resources. For any early childhood educators watching, please feel free to check out the resources on, on our page or on the ECA website. They’re really good. You’ll get a lot out of them. Even if you are a parent slash carer, you, you’re listening to this resources, please feel free to recommend them out. It’s there to be distributed and to inform people about FASD as well as provide some assistance. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Christine (18:44):

Thanks, Kurt.  
Sophie
Thanks for having us.
Christine
Thank you.

Frances (18:49):

Thank you for listening to this episode of Pregnancy, Alcohol and FASD: The Surprising Reality. If you like this podcast episode, please show your support by leaving a rating and review on iTunes. We appreciate your feedback. All rights reserved. For more information about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder please visit NOFASD Australia’s website: www.nofasd.org.au

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