Chapter List and Release Dates
Chapter 1: How Does Learning Take Place?
Release date: January 31, 2018.
Synopsis: Most of us pay little attention to how we learn. When we do think of it, we tend to think of learning in terms of the acquisition of a new skill by trial and error or acquiring a new competency by concentration, memorization and practice. For many children with prenatal exposures to alcohol or drugs, however, learning is often very difficult. Concepts learned in one moment are often forgotten in the next. Thinking tends to be concrete, and abstract concepts are often a complete mystery. In addition, limited attention span and poor impulse control divert cognitive resources away from the task of acquiring new skills. Many times, these behaviors are misinterpreted in the classroom as a lack of motivation or “just not trying.” And, indeed, faced with repeated failures while classmates seem to acquire new skills with ease, many children with prenatal exposures simply give up or refuse to try anything new at all. The question for parents and educators is whether this trajectory can be changed. While structural damage cannot be changed, the most recent research from psychology and neuroscience about how learning takes place gives us a better understanding of how we can use these findings to increase the efficiency of the learning process for children with learning deficits.
Chapter 2: Understanding the Misunderstood: Factors Affecting a Child’s Behavior and Readiness to Learn
Release date: March 27, 2018.
Synopsis: Development often is conceptualized as occurring along multiple trajectories, with each trajectory signifying a different domain or area of development, including cognitive, emotional, social, interpersonal, and motor. Often a child may be on a healthy trajectory in one domain but on a less than optimal trajectory in another. These trajectories are assumed to be linear and continuous, unless something occurs to redirect the pathway. The goal for parents and teachers is to affect the trajectory in a positive way, so less optimal pathways are impeded and the child’s long-term trajectories are modified in a normal and healthy direction.
Chapter 3: The Brain and Learning
Release date: June 6, 2018.
Synopsis: The brain is a highly specialized organ consisting of billions of neural connections. These neural connections are organized into neural pathways that form the interconnected substance of our thoughts, memories, and behavioral responses to the input from our senses. Although the brain has structures that are highly specialized for processing specific types of environmental stimuli (e.g. visual or auditory information) these structures do not process information in isolation. Rather, different parts of the brain are interconnected in complex and highly individualized patterns. A melody or fragrance, for example, that triggers a memory is often coupled with both implicit emotional memories as well as explicit details of a particular event. These neural pathways are constantly changing as a result of our interaction with the world. Neural pathways that are used frequently become strengthened while pathways that are seldom used atrophy. Neuroscientists call this constant generation of neural pathways neural plasticity, and it has become the basis for new theories of learning grounded in the interdisciplinary study of mind, brain and education.
Chapter 4: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Behavior Belongs in the Brain
Release date: July 30, 2018.
Synopsis: Given the approximately 4 million births per year in the United States, there are up to 6,000 children born each year with FAS. But the problem is even worse than these statistics suggest. Data from the 2008-2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, based on a national sample of women, revealed that in the first trimester of pregnancy, 20.4% drink alcohol. Thus, 800,000 children across the United States each year may be born with abnormalities of brain structure and function due to prenatal alcohol exposure. These children can suffer from a broad range of difficulties that, while often quite subtle, can compromise the children’s long-term health, behavior, development, and academic achievement.
Chapter 5: Toward a Proactive Classroom
Release date: September 26, 2018.
Synopsis: Much of what is written and practiced in the classroom involves addressing emotional and behavioral problems that have a long history and may require direct interventions to modify. However, another important step toward addressing problems is to prevent their occurrence in the first place. In general, it is much more effective to prevent problems than it is to respond to them after they have emerged. There are two principles of preventive behavior management: promoting positive, desired behaviors and minimizing behaviors that are disruptive to the instructional process. The classroom that is prevention-focused will use procedures and techniques that focus on both components.
Chapter 6: Toward One-On-One: Individual Behavior Intervention
Release date: December 12, 2018.
Synopsis: Two traditional tools widely used and researched by behavioral psychologists for learning and behavior change are reinforcement and punishment. Most parents and teachers probably are somewhat familiar with these ideas and use variations of them daily. As we discuss our approach to behavior management, you will recognize variations on these two strategies that we have found to be the most successful in working with the alcohol- and drug-exposed child. Taking into account teachers’ and parents’ differing teaching styles and children’s own learning styles, there are some criteria for applying individualized intervention strategies, especially within the context of an eight-step structured problem-solving process.
Chapter 7: Social-Emotional Learning
Release date: TBD, 2019
Synopsis: As humans, we are hard-wired to develop and thrive within the context of social relationships. Our sense of intellectual and physical competence and our sense of self-worth are derived from our interpretation of how others perceive us to be. These factors make the first few years of life critical in establishing the foundation for future cognitive and emotional development. But for children born into substance-abusing environments, early life exposure to attentive and emotionally available caregivers is unlikely to occur. Physiological changes related to prenatal exposures often result in difficult infancies that mitigate against healthy social-emotional development. For example, prenatally-exposed infants are frequently more prone to colic and the physical discomfort of digestive issues. Sleep patterns may be disrupted and the infant may be more difficult to sooth. Moreover, sensory deficits may result in the child rejecting physical touch and attempts to sooth with hugs and cuddling. If the child is then subsequently avoided by the caregiver, attended to inconsistently, or left alone to “cry it out,” the efforts of caregivers to comfort the infant and develop trust are further compromised. As a result, neural pathways that are designed to ensure survival with the support of caring adults begin to atrophy and are replaced with neural pathways that interpret the world from the context of self-preservation. If infants cannot depend upon the adults in their world to provide comfort in times of distress, then they do not develop a secure sense of felt safety and by necessity turn to their own resources to meet their needs. Studies show that a lack of secure attachment with supportive caregivers can cause children to grow up displaying behavioral characteristics similar to children who have been abandoned and deprived of their mothers completely. These behaviors include a lack of empathy for others, pointless deceitfulness and lying, superficial relationships, inaccessibility, lack of emotional response, and the inability to concentrate in school. To remedy this life-course trajectory requires the rebuilding of the foundations of trust and connection with safe adults in the child’s life. Whether provided by a caregiver, extended family member, teacher, or community service provider, self-regulation, attention, impulse control, and the ability to be introspective about one’s own state of emotional well-being are all fostered within the context of a caring, supportive, and safe relationship with an adult whom the child believes truly cares about him.
Chapter 8: Effective Educational Strategies
Release date: TBD, 2019
Synopsis: Children affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs often suffer from brain abnormalities that compromise critical brain structures related to attention, executive function, and memory. Studies show, however, that long term memory is generally unaffected. The instructional challenge for educators, then, becomes how to assist the child to acquire new information since the problem is one of encoding, rather than retrieval. Utilizing what we know about the way prenatal exposure compromises the learning process, effective instructional strategies, then, must focus on activities and interventions that help the child to overcome the known areas of deficit. These include strategies to self-regulate emotional states of arousal in order to maintain attention to task, organizational strategies that help the child to connect new information with existing information and concepts, and strategies that encourage the use of multiple neural pathways to strengthen the connections to long-term memory.
Chapter 9: Special Education and Section 504
Release date: TBD, 2019
Synopsis: Children with prenatal exposure to a variety of substances often pose a challenge to teachers in the classroom. Whether because of learning difficulties or behavioral deficits, most teachers are ill-prepared to differentiate instruction in the classroom for children who learn differently. While there is a wide range of abilities represented among children with prenatal exposures, most children with prenatal alcohol exposure score in the low average range of intellectual ability and perform in the bottom half of the classroom distribution in terms of academic performance. Lacking understanding about the diverse impact of prenatal exposures on the brain, teachers are more likely to ascribe poor attention and impulsive behaviors to a lack of motivation or willfully defiant behavior. As a result, studies show that children with prenatal exposures not only perform more poorly academically, but also receive office disciplinary referrals more often than their non-exposed peers. While it is evident that the unique learning needs of this population require specialized instruction and classroom accommodations to meet their learning needs, most children who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol or drugs do not perform poorly enough to meet the eligibility requirements for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). And while some children will qualify as a child with a disability under Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act, caregivers often are faced with the responsibility to negotiate directly with the school and individual teachers to craft educational accommodations that are appropriate to meet their child’s needs. This process starts with a thorough understanding of the legal rights that are afforded to individuals with disabilities by these two primary pieces of disability legislation and the options available to caregivers to access services that are essential for children with different learning needs.
Chapter 10: The Home/School Bridge
Release date: TBD, 2019
Synopsis: When a child is failing in school, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that both caregivers and educators generally want the same thing for a child with prenatal exposures. Both want the child to be successful. Oftentimes, however, conflict between the home and the school begins when the child is unsuccessful with the current level of services provided. Disagreements, then subsequently arise over the proposed solutions. The parent wants more individualized help for the child, and the teacher believes that the child is capable of learning, if he will just decide to apply himself. The caregiver believes that the child should be placed in a special education setting, while the school does not believe that the child qualifies for such services. The conflict in these two scenarios is over proposed strategies, not solutions. And that confusion between “strategy” and “solution” lies at the heart of most disagreements between educators and caregivers. Consider, for example, that whether specialized education services are provided in the general education setting or in a specialized setting is a matter of geography. It is not the solution. Parents and educators alike would agree that if the teacher has enough training and experience to successfully address the child’s educational needs in the general education environment, there is no need to move the child to a different setting. To maintain the collaborative partnership between the school and the home, then, conversations about classroom strategies and methodologies must be mutually developed based on agreed-upon principles rather than positions. By focusing on principles that meet the underlying needs of both the home and the school, disagreements over services to children with prenatal exposures often can be resolved without adversely impacting the relationships between parents and educators or resorting to formal legal remedies.