People with FASD frequently possess artistic or musical talents which exceed even that of the typical person of their age. Research has estimated that an 18 year old person with FASD has artistic abilities similar to a 29 year old. They are also talented storytellers, actors, and comedians. Due to their abilities in the arts, people with FASD benefit from doing art projects, joining community theater, or finding other ways to express themselves. Like those suffering from mental illness or traumatic brain injury, people with FASD often use music as therapy.
Music can enable those with poor social skills to interact and bond with others. Children with FASD often engage in parallel play, so singing or making music alongside others is a way to socialize. Although the loud noises from the different singers or instruments may be overwhelming, this can be reduced by using earplugs. Music encourages socialization and communication in people who are typically shy or quiet. Another benefit is that musicians are able to enhance areas of the brain. Circuitry in parts of the brain damaged by prenatal alcohol use can be enhanced to hopefully reduce the effects of FASD. Music can promote new nerve growth in the brain, which is important due to the decreased formation of nerve cells in the brain of a person with FASD.
Music can also be an outlet to release anger, revenge, or other strong emotions. When it becomes difficult to communicate with words, a person with FASD can use music to express how he or she feels. Humans are rhythmic creatures, benefiting from patterns and repetition. The rhythm of music can have a calming effect, particularly if it reflects the same beats per minute that an infant has in the womb. Calming music can also be used to assist in sleeping or blocking out excessive noise.
For more information, read FASD Relationships: What I Have Learned About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder by Rod Densmore, M.D. or go to the American Music Therapy Association.
Art therapy may have a similar affect for people with FASD. Like in music therapy, there is evidence that art therapy can alter brain circuitry and decrease impulsivity and violence. This kind of therapy can provide stress-reducing strategies which can be used to prevent violent outbursts. More information on art therapy can be found at the American Art Therapy Association.
Art and music therapy are becoming more common in the treatment of people with FASD. It is thought that this kind of therapy can rewire the brain and increase concentration. In order to teach a student with FASD, a teacher should strive to:
- Connect the art to the real world
- Utilize multiple senses when applicable
- Utilize visual and tactile devices when explaining an activity
- Adjust the pace of activities
- Model or demonstrate the activity
- Use peers, tutors, volunteers, and teacher assistants to work in smaller group
More strategies are available from Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.