Once you see that some children act the way they do because they are affected by FASD, it can make their behaviours easier to understand. It can also lead to more supportive ways of helping children and their parents or caregivers. Changing the way you think about something is often called a “paradigm shift.” A paradigm shift is when you move from thinking “what’s wrong with them?” to thinking “what’s going on for them?”

Sometimes, it is also called “reframing,” which is thinking about something in a different way than you usually do. Here is an example of reframing with a child who does not complete tasks and is often disruptive.

The misunderstood interpretation is that the child is:

  • deliberate
  • stubborn
  • attention seeking

The correct or FASD-informed interpretation is that the child:

  • has difficulty understanding verbal directions
  • has a slower thinking pace
  • is over-stimulated
  • has difficulty taking information and putting it into action


Reframe behavioural strategies
If service providers think a child’s behaviours are willful, intentional, or the result of emotional problems, then the strategies they develop will focus on changing behaviors. But what happens when service providers reframe the way they think to an FASD-informed perspective? Then, a child’s behaviours are understood as the result of brain differences. And the strategies service providers develop focus on support and changing the child’s environment to prevent frustration.

If a child shows any of these behaviours:

  • can’t sit still or are easily distracted
  • has forgotten what they learned
  • isn’t keeping up with the learning and developmental pace of other children
  • aren’t picking up on social cues
  • don’t understand or can’t follow directions

Reframe their behaviours. Instead of thinking the child is being deliberately “bad” or difficult, think of the child as:

  • tired, hungry, or not sleeping at night
  • embarrassed or shut down
  • lacking self-regulation
  • unable or slow to process auditory information (or information they are told, not shown)
  • in an environment that is too noisy or too bright

The strategies you will find to support this child will be very different when you have reframed their behaviour.

Paradigm shift

Changing the way you see, think about, and provide strategies for a child affected by FASD has big benefits for the child. But it also has big benefits for service providers, families, and caregivers.

From seeing child as . . .                   To understanding a child as . . .

won’t                                                   can’t

bad                                                      frustrated, over-stimulated

lies                                                       fills in (“confabulates”)

steals                                                   doesn’t understand ownership, poor impulse control

doesn’t care                                        shut down, Can’t show feelings                     

spoiled/fussy                                       over-sensitive to stimulation

not trying/bad attitude                       can’t remember, can’t start

mean/defiant                                      defensive, stuck

inappropriate                                      misses social cues


Personal feelings of                           To feelings of

hopelessness                                       hope

fear                                                     understanding

chaos/confusion                                  organization, comprehension

power struggles                                  solution focused

isolation                                              networking, collaboration

Professional shifts from                    To

stopping behaviours                            preventing problems

behaviour modification                      modeling, visual cues

changing people                                 changing environments

Here is what a parent in one of our communities had to say about the importance of the paradigm shift for her son and for her family:

Audio Transcript:

“Once we figured out better ways to deal with him, my son isn’t going through as many tantrums as he used to. He has a lot of energy so we try to channel that energy into something more positive. Like yesterday, he helped his dad bring in the wood. We also recognize what triggers his tantrums, and so we limit certain things that can really make him act out. Another positive thing with him is that he likes to take a shower every morning, it seems to really relax him. I keep the towels really warm, so I put his towel in the dryer for him so it’s nice and warm when he gets out of the shower. He also really likes to sing, so we encourage that too. He goes to bed at a decent an hour and he’s on a good routine.”

Want more information about reframing and paradigm shifts in the way you support children affected FASD? Check this out:

A Bag of Tricks for FASD: Specific Strategies to Try