People with FASD have a range of abilities and impairments. Each person has their own abilities and some strengths can include being well-spoken, artistic, musical, athletic, friendly, generous, determined and good with young children. Below are common challenges that have been observed in people diagnosed with FASD. These are called primary disabilities, conditions that someone is born with due to prenatal damage to the body and brain.

  • Memory problems – trouble storing and retrieving information. Often, they fill in the parts of a story they do not remember with made up information leading many people to believe they are lying
  • Inconsistent performance – understands something one day but not the next day, leading people to believe that the child is being difficult on purpose
  • Impulsive, distractible, disorganized – does and says things without thinking, has trouble finding things or planning and finishing a task
  • Difficulty following directions – can repeat instructions, but cannot put them into action
  • Literal thinkers – does not understand jokes or cannot use information learned in one situation in another situation
  • Struggles with abstract concepts such as math, money management, consequences, and time
  • Cognitive processing problems – may think more slowly and only understand every third word of a normally paced conversation
  • Developmental delay – may act younger than their chronological age
  • Poor judgement – inability to predict outcomes or understand consequences
  • Delayed motor skills – may have trouble with fine motor skills or with activities that require coordination
  • Poor social skills – problems making and keeping friends, cannot read body language, does not understand personal boundaries (FASD Waterloo Region, 2018; Malbin, 2017)

If a person with FASD does not receive a diagnosis and appropriate support from people and services that understand their disorder they may develop challenges such as:

  • Inability to control their frustration which may result in angry outbursts with/without violence
  • Mental health concerns and substance use issues
  • Difficulty with activities of daily living
  • Disrupted school experiences
  • Homelessness
  • Trouble with the law
  • Difficulty holding a job
  • Problems with alcohol and other drugs (Government of Canada, 2018)

When diagnosed early and provided with the supports they need, individuals with FASD are resilient and offer many strengths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).