Not Lying... Confabulating

Damage to the function of the frontal lobes in the brain means that a person with FASD may confabulate – make up things that may not be true.

This is not lying – it's a specific behaviour based on a neurological condition – 'faulty wiring' in the brain. The affected person has trouble basing what they say in reality and checking it against the evidence. When they have forgotten or are confused they may just say anything that suits or they think is expected at the time. They may believe what they say to be true at the time and for this reason can be very convincing!

Young people and older people with FASD have even confessed to crimes they have not committed so as to be agreeable and they get easily confused when questioned using complex language or leading questions. They are not devious or sophisticated, and they will take things at face value and do not realise the intentions of others – for instance in situations where others may be blaming them for something they have not done.

They also lack reserve so can be overly open and honest, disclosing things about themselves that it may be best not to. For this reason they need responsible adult assistance when they run into difficulties.


Sad teenager anonymousSocial struggles

Young people with FASD want to be liked and they struggle to form and maintain friendships because they miss social cues and can behave in a socially inappropriate way because of their brain damage. They may say thing to try to impress others without realising the implications.

They are also often made scapegoats by others due to their naive simplicity and are prone to acting under the instructions of more sophisticated peers. They are easily victimised by individual and systems. Immaturity is the primary feature of the disability so they require the expectations of a much younger child. 

Confabulation is a feature of a brain-based deficit of reasoning and therefore when a young person says things that turn out not to be true it is pointless trying to reason with them. It is best not to pick up on it and store it away for further investigation and verification. This does not mean that we should not believe what they say but a grain of salt is required.

For the welfare of young people with FASD it is vital to have open communication and good collaboration between school and home so that all are working to best support the young disabled person across their entire day. It is best for one well informed person at school, usually the SENCO to manage situations that may arise so that solutions can be quickly found and problems averted.


Dr Valerie McGinn PhD
Paediatric Neuropsychologist and FASD Specialist