Homeschooling FASD: Support Tips

We were tired of hearing everything that our son couldn’t do and wanted to focus on what he COULD do. Both of our children have homeschooling paths are unique and strength based.

In 2002, Natalie and John Vecchione brought home their newborn son. It was a dream come true after his 2 week battle in the NICU.

The Decision To Homeschool

11 years later, Natalie and John made the decision to homeschool him. They did so in an effort to save him from a constant barage of bullying. Additionally, they needed to provide him with the academic accommodations that homeschooling provides.

In Natalie’s own words,

We began homeschooling as an ACCOMMODATION for our son’s multiple physical, developmental and learning needs. In the end, our homeschooling adventure has been a challenging, but exciting one.

I’ve asked Natalie, co-host of the FASD Hope podcast, to speak to us about parenting and homeschooling FASD. The insight she offers has universal application to kids with a variety of developmental challenges.

So get ready to be equipped and encouraged.

We All Need To Know About FASD

What’s this FASD? And what does it have to do with homeschooling?

Well, maybe you, like Natalie, are an adoptive mom. Perhaps you have a child struggling with behavioral, emotional or learning issues.

Or maybe you’re a human being living on planet earth with other human beings. Regardless, if you said yes to any of the above, please keep reading.

While FASD may not ring a bell with you now, trust me. We all need to know about this 100% preventable developmental disorder. Because it’s more prevalent than you may think.

mom son at table learning together

Mental Health & The Dangers of Stigma

Before we begin, I’d like to offer a warning. This post contains information that may be painful for some. Even worse, it may feel stigmatizing.

Please know that there is grace and no shame whatsover.

We are all just people doing the very best with what we know at any one given time.

Once we learn something new, we move forward with that in mind. No looking back and beating ourselves up.

Just move forward.

Diagnoses & Accommodations

It’s not uncommon for families to face an uphill battle to get a proper diagnoses for their child’s varying developmental challenges. This was especially true for Natalie and her son.

Natalie’s 18-year-old son now has a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)/bipolar disorder diagnoses.

Because of the limited awareness within the medical community, however, he didn’t receive his “official” diagnosis until he was 15 years old.

8 FASD Facts Everyone Should Know

Natalie shares some foundational information about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder below.

As a homeschool mom and a FASD Parent Advocate, here’s what I want you to know about FASD.

1. What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong disability that affects the brain and body of those individuals who were prenatally exposed to alcohol.

It is the leading cause of developmental disabilities in the Western World.

Those who have an FASD have a lower developmental age compared to their chronological age.

chalkboard "developmental delays"

3. I’ve never heard of FASD before. Clearly, it’s not common, right?

A recent 2018 study, published in JAMA, by Phillip May, Ph.D. of UNC-Chapel Hill found that up to 1 in 20 first graders have an FASD.

FASD is the most misdiagnosed
undiagnosed and underdiagnosed of all developmental disabilities.

4. What amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy?

NO amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.  Out of all of the drugs/substances that can be exposed to an unborn child, alcohol causes the MOST damage.

wine glass crossed out

5. Is there a cure for FASD?

FASD is a BRAIN BASED disability with lifelong symptoms.  It cannot be cured.  A child or teen with an FASD is not “misbehaving” or “being disobedient”.

His or her brain cannot process what is being asked of them.

It’s not that they WON’T, but that they CAN’T.
orange character confused head in hands

6. Are there any populations of people more susceptible to FASD?

Although approximately 80% of children and teens in the US Foster Care System are impacted by an FASD, FASD is does not discriminate.

It is NOT limited to one population or demographic. And an FASD can happen to ANY unborn child exposed to ANY amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

7. What does it mean that FASD is a “spectrum disorder”?

Like Autism and other cognitive differences, FASD is considered a spectrum disorder. This is because each person with an FASD can show different symptoms. 

As mentioned earlier, FASD results in cognitive, behavioral, health, adaptive functioning and learning challenges. 

Additionally, there are over 400 comorbid medical and mental health diagnoses that can accompany having an FASD. 

8. What are the diagnoses often labeled an “FASD”?

1. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS),
This is usually associated with children who display the facial features of FAS. Children do not need to show facial features to be affected by an FASD.

2. Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS),

3. Alcohol Related Birth Defect (ARBD),

4. Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated w Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)

5. Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

fetal alcohol syndrome facial features
Facial abnormalities are evident in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. There are 4 other FASDs that DO NOT show these features.

One Child With FASD

Dr. Stephen Shore has said about autism, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”

The same is true with FASD. Whether your child has an ADHD, autism, FASD, RAD, anxiety or an ODD diagnosis, cognitive differences often look very similar.

Exhausted By Behavioral Challenges?

Start The 5 Day Devotional For Support, Relief & Tools That Work!

How Does One Child With FASD Learn?

Natalie reflects back on her son’s clear learning strengths. He, like so many children, was designed to learn through movement.

We always knew that our son loved to work with his hands and that he was very creative. When he was younger, he enjoyed “hands-on” science experiments, art projects and building things.

She refers to him as a kinesthetic learner.

Adventures & The Need For Sensory Input

Natalie also discusses her son’s drive for adventure and appropriate sensory input.

He also enjoyed outdoor activities, exploring nature and physical activities like skateboarding, scootering and lifting weights.

boy yellow shirt skateboarding
Skateboarding is an excellent form of vestibular input to help with self-regulation and learning.

Proprioceptive & Vestibular Input

Skateboarding and scootering are both examples of activities that provide the brain with vestibular sensory input.

Lifting weights provides the brain and body with an alternative form of sensory input refered to as proprioceptive input.

Both forms of sensory input provide the body and brain with feel-good chemicals that calm the mind and body. By God’s design, children and adults display preferences for various sensory input in order to best self-regulate.

This is important to know when homeschooling your child so that you can best equip them for academic, emotional and relational success.

Tips When Homeschooling FASD

I asked Natalie to share some of her greatest tips when homeschooling a child with an FASD. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Meet Children Where They’re At

Natalie’s first recommendation is handsdown my number one recommendation for ANY parent of ANY child.

We MUST meet our children where they’re at so that they can explore the gifts in them.  Learn their interests, support their interests and nurture their growth...

Support your child. Learn how you can accommodate and support his or her needs! Meet your child where he or she is at….

2. Understand Inconsistencies With Memory

Again, Natalie hits the ball out of the park with this one.

As a result of the brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure, working memory can be poor.

One day, your child may remember something. And then the next day, they may not be able to retrieve it.

When that happens, shift gears and focus on what your child CAN do.

Natalie recently interviewed Dr. Ira Chasnoff, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. In that episode, he notes that children with an FASD will show difficulties transfering information from short-term to long-term memory.

This explains why so many of children struggle with cause and effect. More specifically, this is why these children “know the rules one day, but break them the next.” They DO NOT remember.

Listen to Natalie’s interview with Dr. Chasnoff here.

RELATED EPISODE: Slower Processing Speed- How Long Should My Kid Do School?

3. God’s Eyes of Grace

Not to beat a dead horse, but Natalie’s next piece of advice is spot on.

We moms have so much more power than we think. When we shift our mindset to see our kids through God’s eyes of grace, things radically change.

See your child the same way the Lord sees them. As a gift, a blessing and YOUR teacher!  I can honestly say that our son’s journey, taught ME numerous life lessons. Especially the past few years… and strengthened my FAITH!

4. Weaknesses Are Really Strengths

Natalie’s next piece of advice is pure gold. Like her, shifting my own perspective to see my child’s “weaknesses” as their true strengths has been a gamechanger. And it’s foundational to my 4 step parenting framework.

Natalie says,

When you see distractibility, (shift your focus to the opposite side of that coin). It’s highly likely that your child can hyperfocus on subjects of interest. Use those subjects and skills to fuel interest-led learning.

Yes, Natalie!!! Preach it, Sister!!! Hyperfocus, a gift of so many neurodiverse people, is often negatively framed as “obsessive.”

This mindset often fuels shame and relational division. And this serves no one, Sweet Momma!

RELATED POST: Homeschooling ADHD- 19 Tips To Harness The Power of The Distracted Brain

5. Respite is Essential For Mom

Natalie’s last piece of advice is a foundational piece of this parenting puzzle. She reminds and encourages you to take care of YOU.

On the days that you think you can’t do this (and I’ve had MANY of those!), remember that the Lord trusted YOU to teach your child. Take a rest and renewal day. Tomorrow is a new day.

Exhausted By Behavioral Challenges?

Start The 5 Day Devotional For Support, Relief & Tools That Work!

Pocket of Respite Activities

And while Natalie recommends a rest and renewal day, there are often barriers to this possibility. She gets that 100%. I get that 100%.

So if you’re in that season where getting away for an entire day is not possible, please prioritize one or two pockets of respite throughout your day.

Even a 15 minute lock-yourself-in-the-closet to scream session can do wonders to help you release some of the tension.

For me, a daily workout was essential. Even a “crappy” workout was better than none. And the health benefits were far beyond physical.

Release the Guilt & Shame

And I’m talking guilt-free pockets. We Christian moms often live under the burden of unhealthy theology which tells us that “self-care” is selfish.

Friend, if this is a burden you’re carrying, please sign up for the 5 Day Devotional Series For The Exhausted Mom. God is so gracious and His heart for you is so tender. There’s so much hope!

Interdependence Is A Gift

Let’s close this out with some encouraging news.

Natalie’s son is now 18 and has just graduated from homeschooling. He is proudly working part time as a carpentry apprentice and studying computer coding online.

In Natalie’s words,

The journey doesn’t end when homeschool does, it begins a new chapter. We are converting one of our detached workshops into a tiny house for our son in the next year so he may have interdependence.

Thank you, Natalie. Interdependence. Wow! That sure sounds like a beautiful picture of real relationship to me.

Relationship with our kids is everything, My Friend. Without it, we have no influence. As Natalie shows us show beautifully, let’s nurture it well together.

Spread Awareness of FASD

To learn more about parenting and homeschooling children with FASD or other developmental challenges, please check out Natalie and John’s weekly podcast, FASD Hope.

Contact Natalie at [email protected]

Natalie Vecchione is an FASD parent advocate, homeschooler, podcaster. But MOST importantly… she’s a wife and a mom of two through domestic adoption .

She and her husband, John, co-host the FASD Hope podcast with a mission to provide awareness, information and inspiration to people whose lives have been touched by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Be sure to listen to the FASD Hope podcast

For more information about FASD:

Related Posts & Episodes:
Homeschooling ADHD: 19 Effective Tips
Zones Of Regulation At Home: Self-Regulation For The Family
Growth Mindset For Moms of ADHD & Autism

Exhausted By Behavioral Challenges?

Start The 5 Day Devotional For Support, Relief & Tools That Work!

As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a nomical commission from qualifying purchases. Thank you for your support.

Leave a Comment