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National Organisation for FASD Australia

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Common behaviours and features of children with FASD

The common behaviours and features of a child with FASD may include the following, but can vary from child to child:

Challenges can be decreased if parents/carers are able to recognise these characteristics and accept them as symptoms that are the result of damage to the brain by alcohol exposure in utero. These may include the following, but can vary from child to child:

  • learning difficulties (don’t seem to be learning as well as other children)
  • Cognitive processing deficits – thinking which is slowed (may only pick up some pieces of the information or instruction)
  • impulsiveness (acting without thinking)
  • disorganized and easily distracted
  • Ability to repeat instructions, but inability to put them into action (talk the talk)
  • Inability to predict outcomes or understand consequences (don’t learn from mistakes)
  • Difficulty with social relationships (have trouble making and keeping friends)
  • attention/hyperactivity (may have been diagnosed with ADHD)
  • Inconsistent performance and memory (know or can do something one day but seem to forget it the next)
  • developmental delays (brain development is younger than chronological age and they most likely will not reach developmental milestones on time).
  • Difficulty with abstract thinking – mathematics, money, time
  • Perseveration (getting stuck in a thought pattern or an action and find it difficult to move on)
  • Explosive behaviour or running away (fight or flight response to their environment)
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour

The maturity and development of children with FASD can be uneven and confusing. Strong abilities in certain areas, such as expressive language (the way they talk), can hide impairment in other areas. For example, a young person of 18 may speak as well as a 20- year-old but only have the understanding and emotional maturity of a six-year-old. Caregivers are encouraged to always “think younger” when assessing their child’s abilities and to accept their immaturity in certain areas as a symptom of FASD.

FASD Physical Age vs Developmental Age

When there is no understanding of the brain differences between neurotypical children and those with FASD there is an expectation that children will behave and act in a certain way. Unless children with FASD are provided with the support and accommodations they need these expectations can set them up for failure time and time again.

This leads to an increased risk of later life problems such as:

  • incomplete education (often don’t complete secondary education)
  • family and economic dependence (unable to manage money or their life without support)
  • poverty and homelessness
  • alcohol and other substance abuse
  • sexual or physical victimisation
  • unplanned and early parenthood (may have children with multiple partners)
  • difficulty parenting their own children and subsequent risk for them.
  • involvement in the criminal justice system

Strengths of children with FASD

Children with FASD do best when their individual strengths are recognised. Every child with FASD has their own set of unique strengths, yet unfortunately they are often only defined by their problem behaviours or their disability. While it is important to understand and accept the disability and focus on solving problems related to un-wanted behaviour, this approach can mean forgetting to appreciate your child as a whole person.

When we only focus on their problems, we limit their possibilities but when we also focus on their amazing strengths we can help them be more successful in school and in the community.

Appreciating them as a whole person, not just a person with a disability, and maintaining a focus on what they do well can also help to decrease other secondary challenges. Common strengths include:

  • Highly verbal
  • Bright in some areas
  • Artistic, musical, mechanical
  • Athletic
  • Friendly, outgoing, affectionate
  • Willing
  • Helpful
  • Generous
  • Good with younger children
  • Every day is a new day!

This little booklet provides more information about how you can focus on strengths to help your child: A Focus on Strengths: Useful and Practical Tips

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