Video: Relationships in the Complex FASD World

This video explores relationship issues experienced by individuals with FASD and offers strategies to help maintain relationships.

About this video

Production date: November 10, 2010
Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Presenters: Danna Ormstrup and Pam Van Vugt
Download slide notes for this video (PDF, 16 pages)

Danna Ormstrup, Executive Director of the Foothills Fetal Alcohol Society, has worked with the rural communities south of Calgary for 10 years providing support for individuals and families living with FASD. Danna’s background is in recreation and disabilities. She has presented frequently at FASD conferences.

Pam van Vugt, supervisor of the Parent-Child Assistance Program (P-CAP) in Calgary, has been teaching Sexuality Education for Alberta Health Services (Calgary Health Region) for 30 years. Pam’s background is in foster care and in-home support. She has spoken at a number of FASD conferences.


This video will help you understand:

  • relationship issues for persons affected by FASD
  • skills needed to be successful in relationships
  • strategies for helping persons affected by FASD become more successful in relationships


  1. Social skills (2:32)
  2. Relationships (22:30)

Social skills

There are many unwritten or unspoken rules that are followed in social situations.

  • reading verbal cues, body language and facial cues is key to maintaining regular social interactions
  • persons with FASD have difficulty recognizing, understanding and remembering cues
  • they tend to interpret language literally
  • for example, “go fly a kite” is not understood as a figure of speech
  • impulsivity can be an issue
    • saying what they are thinking
    • acting without thinking
  • the more anxious someone with FASD becomes, the harder it is to regulate their actions and thoughts
  • changes can lead to confusion unless carefully explained
  • understanding money and time important to be able to function independently
  • money often a challenge for those affected by FASD because brain damage impairs their ability to understand math and think abstractly


While it’s true that everyone needs relationships, people with FASD need them even more. Individuals with FASD are more reliant than others, which makes them vulnerable to being used or abused.

Relationships are:

  • a connection to someone else
  • a way of seeking intimacy

The type of relationship is defined by:

  • purpose
  • level of intimacy
  • level of interdependence
  • for example:
    • sibling
    • parent
    • friend
    • partner
    • classmate

Relationship levels and characteristics

These levels typically happen in order in healthy relationships:

  1. willingness, trust, respect
  2. caring communication, friendship
  3. partnership, intimacy, love
  4. interdependence

Characteristics of healthy relationships include:

  1. trust
  2. respect
  3. shared interests
  4. support

Types of relationships

  • friendship
  • dating:
    • includes friendship
    • also involves some commitment
    • may involve sexual relationship


  • a biological instinct – sex education is important
  • needs to include safety and safe sex, as well as respect for self and others
  • inhibition may need to be taught
  • intimacy can be attained without sex
  • individuals affected by FASD often have difficulty setting limits or boundaries
  • may be generous to a fault
  • may lack empathy

Teaching sexual health

  • teach permission to touch and be touched
  • beware social isolation – overprotection can limit experience in social situations
  • encourage dating in groups
  • beware the internet
    • ensure supervised access
    • teach internet safety
  • use stories as teaching tools as they relate to clients
  • enlist others to support you in teaching/supporting a client
  • make sure they have someone they can call at any time in any situation (without fear of immediate consequences)

Institute the 24 hour rule:

  • if they call from a situation that they should not be in, they are able to call without fear of ‘getting in trouble’
  • but they will still receive a delayed discussion 24 hours afterwards


Modified: 2015-09-09
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