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Social Dysfunction: A Key Deficit in Adults with Suspected and Confirmed FASD


Forensic Scholars Today

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a complex diagnosis impacting behavioral, cognitive,

educational, and vocational capacities. Social dysfunction is a core deficit associated with prenatal

alcohol exposure. Over the past multiple years of my professional work with adults with suspected or

diagnosed FASD, I have identified seven themes that consistently arise concerning social dysfunction in

some individuals who have been exposed to alcohol prenatally. These themes are often exacerbated

when misdiagnoses have been made, proper treatment has not been given, or familial and community

supports have not been established. Confirmed based on interviews with caregivers and others

professionals working with this population, I am pleased to present these themes to you here.

1. Boundary Problems. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD experience

difficulties with establishing healthy boundaries with persons in their communities. Such

individuals are often overly friendly with strangers or with persons known to them who do not wish

to maintain in contact. This may manifest in violation of non-contact orders or unwanted sexual

advances, as the comprehension of both verbal and nonverbal cues may be clouded.

2. Friendship-Building Problems. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD

experience difficulties in establishing healthy friendships with persons in their communities. As a

result, they often have superficial friendships, sometimes with persons in younger age groups to

match their maturity and developmental level.

3. Lack of Cause-Effect Thinking. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD often lack

the ability to foresee the consequences (especially the social consequences) of their actions,

resulting in judgment deficiencies that come across as a lack of common sense. This may

manifest in the ignoring of “good manners” and a lack of awareness of obviously risky situations.

2015, Vol. 1, Issue 3: FASD Special Edition 2

4. Person-Pleasing. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD often try hard to please

others at their own expense. Hence, they may come across as naïve or easily fooled, as they

have a perceived inability to say no to friends. This may manifest in being tricked into giving

money or objects to other people, or being the scapegoat for the actions of others.

5. Inappropriate Conversations. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD have an

excessive need for attention, which sometimes manifests in talking more than is appropriate. The

content of this speech may also be unusual, hyperbolic or socially inappropriate.

6. Social Overstimulation. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD become

overstimulated in social situations such as being in a crowded room or when strangers are

present. This overstimulation may impact their ability to effectively socialize, resulting in


7. Lack of Emotion Regulation. Some individuals with suspected or diagnosed FASD may

overreact to social situations, experiencing stronger emotions than are appropriate given the

context. In contrast, they may also experience blunted affect, appearing disinterested in routine

social interactions or conversations.

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Jerrod Brown, M.A., M.S., M.S., M.S., is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc.

Pathways provides programs and services benefiting individuals impacted by mental illness and

addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of

Forensic Studies (AIAFS), and the lead developer and program director of an online graduate degree

program in Forensic Mental Health from Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota. Jerrod is currently

pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology.