“My FAS[D] clients often did not follow through with basics, like showing up for appointments, being on time, going to the right places, or conducting themselves appropriately….My assumption that my clients were not interested or did not care was wrong; they could not structure the pieces of the puzzle together in a logical and meaningful way.” (Boulding, D. 2001).
In working with accused, witnesses, or victims with FASD, it is important to remember that their chronological age may not match their functional age. For example, in one study, the median chronological age of participants with FASD was 16 years, 5 months, while their functioning age was 6 years, 7 months.
People with FASD may be especially vulnerable during encounters with justice system players due to impaired language skills, difficulty with memory and abstract concepts (such as time), or impaired judgment. They may also be overly suggestible or impulsive.
It is not unusual for someone with FASD to rotate between being a witness, victim, and accused person. So, it’s important to remember that in an encounter with the justice system they might be any or all of these. Modified supports and services might be needed and appropriate if someone is a witness, victim or accused.
Communicating with people with FASD about the justice system can be challenging. Language impairments may make it difficult to understand and relay necessary information about the criminal justice system, or to provide instructions, However many people with FASD are able to mask their confusion by talking a lot. “They develop a glibness that belies their actual competence. Subtleties of language use are beyond them. Idioms or sarcasm are likely to cause confusion.” This means that people with FASD will almost always need someone to “interpret” for them at every stage in the process.
People with FASD may have the following challenges which can cause complications for someone entering or participating in the justice system:
- poor social skills
- low comprehension levels
- inability to concentrate for long periods of time or to link actions with consequences
- weak short term memory
- risk of confabulation (recalling details or events that didn’t actually happen)
- problems with memory and time
- suggestibility and impulsivity
Extra time might be needed to take in what is happening. And fatigue may be a major factor, as most people with FASD are tired all the time and run out of cognitive energy quickly.