FASD & the Justice System

The most important thing an advocate can do is make the court aware of the situation where FASD is suspected or diagnosed.   For tips on recognizing the possibility of FASD go to http://fasdjustice.ca/recognizing-and-addressing-fasd-in-the-justice-system/

Reducing distractions in the court room aids in communication (e.g. no fans, put the pens in drawers, move the chairs closer to the judge to reduce the extraneous stimulation).  Decrease the amount of stimulation within the court room or law office to assist with focusing on the task of communication.  See: http://fasdjustice.ca/what-works/adapt-the-environment.html

When under stress the first language (Ojibway, Cree, etc.) will be the language for best comprehension. Use a translator for the appropriate language.  Ask for an Elder, traditional teacher, or a support person to sit with the FASD affected individual.

Consider the following recommendations for working with FASD affected individuals:

  • Work with rather than at;
  • Try differently, not harder;
  • Invite the individual into solution finding; and
  • Move from seeing them as “not trying to get the obvious” to “needing many re-teachings.”


Flexibility is helpful for people with FASD, who usually have trouble with dates, times and appointments. For example, Aboriginal Legal Services Toronto always gives less than a month’s notice for Community Council hearings, while the mainstream system often takes much longer in setting court dates. http://www.nfhs-pg.org/media/3_Community/Aboriginal%20Approaches-Revised.pdf

Adjust how you speak if you know or suspect the client has FASD. The main principles are to keep language simple and to avoid abstract concepts.  Keep the environment quiet and calm, with not too many things on the walls – not too stimulating or overwhelming.  Be prepared to listen and learn from the client. http://www.nfhs-pg.org/media/3_Community/Aboriginal%20Approaches-Revised.pdf

People with FASD respond well to a counselor or advocate who provides clear feedback on the consequences of their behaviour, followed by helpful suggestions.  Decisions for FASD affected offenders should be realistic and practicalhttp://www.nfhs-pg.org/media/3_Community/Aboriginal%20Approaches-Revised.pdf

People with FASD struggle to learn and need to be given time to digest new things and change their behaviour. It may take time, even months or years, for important messages to reach an FASD affected offender. http://www.nfhs-pg.org/media/3_Community/Aboriginal%20Approaches-Revised.pdf

The literature tells us that people of all ages with FASD tend to be suggestible and easily influenced by peers; one of the main characteristics of FASD is the mimicking of maladaptive behaviours.  The most effective techniques for reducing these behaviours are based on positive (supportive) rather than negative modes of behaviour change (judgement and punishment).


Other practical tips include using plain language on materials provided to the FASD affected individual.  In Manitoba, the “Icon Project” was developed to assist visual or hands-on learners to better understand their probation conditions by using pictorial representations of each condition. http://www.capmanitoba.ca/_newsletters/pdfs/2009_Winter.pdf

Minimizing the number of things an FASD affected person has to do and taking FASD into consideration where there is a breach of conditions will also facilitate overall compliance and success.  Courts and Parole Boards can be creative in crafting dispositions for FASD affected offenders and all relevant court personnel should be trained on FASD.

For more justice related strategies with FASD-affected Aboriginal individuals see: http://fasdjustice.ca/aboriginal-peoples-and-fasd/what-to-do.html