These are often called the “primary characteristics”. For more information about this topic, go to the Understanding section of this site, here. Sometimes these signs and behaviours are lumped into different categories. Those categories include:

  • signs and behaviours that involve the senses.
    Children affected by FASD don’t filter sensory information well. So they might be EITHERover-sensitive OR under-sensitive to smells, tastes, movement, or touch. They might overreact or underreact to things they see or hear. Some children might have a high or a low tolerance for pain. Some telltale signs are children who are easily over-stimulated or overloaded by what’s going on around them. Sometimes, they might seek out the sensation, which can be misinterpreted as “being bad” or “always getting into trouble.” Or they shut down and don’t react at all. (This is sometimes called having a “flat affect”.)
  • problems with self-regulation.
    This means that children affected by FASD have difficulty calming themselves down. They often have difficulties sleeping or eating. (They might, for example, get fixated on one type of food.) They are likely to react to change in a negative way. Their activity level could be either really high or unusually low. Often, many children affected by FASD are impulsive or strongly reactive especially when under pressure. But others can seem oblivious to what’s going on around them.
  • social, communication, and other behaviour problems.
    There is a wide range of these kind of behaviour problems that children affected by FASD might have. They can be “indiscriminate” with strangers. This means they act the same around a stranger as they do around someone they know well. Obviously, this can lead to difficult and even unsafe situations. They may also be very suggestible and tell you what they think you want to hear. Or they become a follower, which again can lead to unsafe situations, especially as they become teenagers. Children affected by FASD don’t get hints and can easily miss social cues or not understand social rules or norms. They often act much younger than they are. They can have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality and will tell “tall stories” which can be misinterpreted as lying. Finally, children affected by FASD tend not to understand ownership which can lead to issues of unintentional stealing or misappropriation.

Here is how a mother of an FASD affected child in one of our communities describes some of the sensory behaviours she noticed in her child:

Audio Transcription:

“I began to notice that he was really hyper. Like always doing somersaults on the bed and cartwheels in the living room and he didn’t ever respond to pain and he was really accident prone. Once he was jumping in his room and he jumped so high on the bed and hit the coffee table and he hit his groin and he didn’t respond to the pain but he started crying when he noticed that he was bleeding. I think he was scared by the blood but he didn’t feel the pain.”

For more information about this topic, go to the Strategies section of this site, here: Key strategies for working with children affected by FASD and Working with parents and caregivers of children affected by FASD.

FASD is a disability that lasts for life. The primary disabilities of FASD are permanent. The damage caused to the brain does not lessen or improve, even as the person gets older. BUT a child’s behaviours can change with support, effective strategies, and better understanding.
Want more information about understanding alcohol, pregnancy, and FASD? Check this out:

Alcohol and Pregnancy—Preventing FASD