FASD and Confabulation
(Teresa Kellerman's reply to a parent's question)

Some notes about why our kids with alcohol effects might lie. I really dislike the implication that our kids are "Liars." They really are just confabulators, meaning they make up answers as they go along. And this is "normal" for kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), collectively referred to as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

Making up stories and telling tall tales is a normal part of being a typical 4-5 year old. Scientic research done by Dr. Edward Riley shows that many kids with FASD have an arrested social development that stops at about the level of a 4 to 6 year old. Is it reasonable for us to expect them to develop the social and moral conscience of an adult, or even that which we would expect of a typical 8-, 10-,or 12-year-old (whatever chronological age we might be dealing with)?

Everybody lies. That's right, every person reading this has lied at one time or another. People lie for various reasons, sometimes to avoid punishment or embarrassment, to cover up a mistake or wrongdoing, to avoid getting found out. Well, with the lack of impulse control and poor judgement imposed unwillingly on our kids by their disability, they are more likely to do things that they might get into trouble for, and they are more likely to get caught. It seems unfair that they be punished for behavior that is sometimes beyond their control. (But of course we still need to hold them accountable, within reason, keeping in mind their emotional level of development, which might be about half their chronological age.)

Typical lying in typical children is addressed in an article published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry here: Children and lying (Fact Sheet)

Sometimes we are looking at a normal psychological process that is in line with our child's developmental status mentally and cognitively. Sometimes it is beyond what is considered normal. The psychological term for pathological lying is "pseudologia fantastica ."

In an article published by the American Psychiatric Press on Pathological Lying, Dr. Charles Ford writes: "Brain dysfunction underlies pseudologia fantastica about one-third of the time. For some pseudologues this may take the form of dyslexia or other learning disabilities. Frequently, in those who do have cerebral dysfunction, verbal skills are disproportionately greater than other brain functions, and verbal IQ is higher than performance IQ (King and Ford 1988). It has been suggested that a contributing factor in the production of pseudologia fantastica is that there is a lack of "quality control" for the person's verbal productions (Ford et al. 1988). The more logical and critical portions of the brain (frontal lobes and nondominant hemispheres) fail to monitor verbal output adequately. In the extreme case, this leads to confabulation."

Even though our children's ability to control the lying might be impaired, rather than excuse the behavior, we need to deal with it in an effective manner. One parent's method of confronting her son in a situation where she could anticipate his making up an answer to avoid getting into trouble is commendable. She anticipated the temptation to lie to cover up a "no-no." What she did by giving him time to think about how to answer her request for an explanation was to follow exactly what the experts have been telling us, to help our kids stop before they speak or act and think about what they really want to say or do. One of my favorite new sites is the one from Deb Evensen in Alaska. Her intervention strategies include this sequence:

  • Stop Action!
  • Observe.
  • Listen carefully to find out where he/she is stuck.
  • Ask: What is hard? What would help?
  • This strategy not only helps in minimizing the lying, but also helps with other impulsive behaviors. Check out Deb's page on helping the school-age child with FAS/FAE: 8 Magic Keys: Developing Successful Interventions for Students with FAS . Sounds a little like my Seven Secrets to Success! LOL

    Here is Dianne's perspective with excellent insights and suggestions, and Annie's Solution.

    Here is a BBC news article that describes pathological lying.

    This is an excellent article by Deborah Hage that explains why our children lie and what to do about it.

    Teresa Kellerman, FASSTAR Enterprises in Tucson, Arizona