Living With FASD Blog

Managing Math Meltdowns

You’ve probably experienced frustration and meltdowns when helping your child with math homework. The presentation by Dr. Claire Coles in our “Living With FASD 2013 Summit” provides ideas on how parents and educators can more effectively teach math to children with FASD, based on each child’s unique learning patterns and requirements.

In her intervention study called MILE (Math Interactive Learning Experience), children with a diagnosis of FASD were given 6 one hour sessions of one-on-one training provided by MILE program instructor. Immediately after, and 6 months following the training, test scores of the children receiving the MILE training were double those of the control group. The MILE program is an example of an intervention study (research) which are conducted to prove or disprove the effectiveness of different (new) programs that promise to improve scores, health, reduce impulsivity, etc. These studies are important to you because an FASD-specific learning technique is put to the test and either proven to be effective or not. Ones that are found to be effective, such as the MILE program, can then be repeated and implemented in local schools so you and your kids can expect to be more successful.

Intervention studies are important to you (as a parent) because they are often a pre-requisite required by funders, like insurance companies, or “gate keepers” like school systems. So, given how wide-spread and important FASD is as a general health condition in society, you might easily think that there would be lots of intervention studies done on different interventions for children and adults with FASD. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

The following slides give an overview of existing FASD intervention studies. The slides are taken from a presentation by Dr. Claire Coles during the “The 5th International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” in Vancouver, BC held in 2013. Below, you will see details of only 24 intervention studies that have been published since 1998:


Contrast this with the rapidly growing body of FASD research across many scientific disciplines (i.e., non-intervention studies). Every 6 months NOFAS-UK publishes an online compilation of the latest FASD research from around the world: In their December 2012 edition, they list 122 new research papers from the previous 6 months produced in 24 counties, including Moslem dominated countries like Iran and Turkey. So why the disparity?

Years ago, I recall having a conversation with a researcher from the University of Washington who said that a “Best Practices Guidelines” had been prepared for professionals and parents raising children with autism. She suggested that we were at least a decade away from developing comparable standards for FASD. As I recall, the reason was that, FASD has such a much greater variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms, thus we have yet to define best practices.

When I was hunting for a best practices guide for FASD, I came across an 84 page literature review by Mary Bennett, published in 2009. ( ) Ms. Bennett cites the research Morrissette (page 23) did with families to identify the most useful types of support families often require. What emerged is that the ideal family support worker for a family raising members with FASD would comprise a 3 in 1 role; clinician able to relate possible underlying physical/ brain conditions to observed behaviour, facilitator able to reframe family interactions and patterns to maintain healthy relationships, researcher/educator able to help families understand their circumstances relative to others in similar situations like urban vs. rural, couples vs. single parents, etc.

While the scientific basis for the root causes for FASD are being broadly and thoroughly investigated around the world (approximately 250 research studies per year), we still only have a handful of intervention-type studies to draw from (only 24 in the last 15 years). The good news is that the MILE program has proven to be highly effective. For more information and to take next steps bringing the MILE program to your school district, please listen to Dr. Coles interview and visit her webpage for contact information, along with a downloadable PDF of the MILE Math Lesson Plan.





  • My 10 year old grandchild totally refuses to do homework (and is not required to by IEP program he has) –terrible meltdown if suggested–so I do it incidentally usually in terms of money he earns for chores.
    Older girl-12 and half, rarely has homework but does it if in a good mood. Also has IEP.

  • My granddaughter has FASD. When she was learning multiplications in school, we relearnt the multiplications table about 4 times, she learnt well when we played bouncing ball, but within a few weeks, she couldn’t remember any of the memorized multiplication tables. When she was eleven years old, I brought a Finger Math Book home, we learnt Finger Math together, she was getting real quick at it, but her father was embarrassed, so we stop using Finger Maths. She is now 18 yrs old and she told me the other day that she is still using Finger Maths to do calculations. I had never noticed that she was still using that technique. Proud grandma.

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