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Primary Characteristics of FASD: Dysmaturity

Remember the phrase, act your age, not your shoe size? Does anyone come to mind when you think of it now? Perhaps one of the children you are raising?

My youngest son is seventeen, according to his birthday, but on most levels, he functions more like an eight-year-old. He does not have the capacity to drive, work a part-time job, or do his chores or schoolwork independently.

While my teen is interested in girls, his TV preferences range from Star Wars and Avengers to Wild Kratts and Curious George. He reads at a second-grade level and does third-grade math.

This boy does not care what he wears—even preferring me to pick out his clothes and doesn’t care if his shirt is inside out or backward.

So what’s going on here?

It’s called “dysmaturity,” and it’s a primary symptom of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. While dysmaturity is also a characteristic of childhood trauma and other brain-based conditions, for my family, it’s part of the FASD.

Dysmaturity is when an individual’s developmental level of functioning is much younger than their chronological age.

One challenging aspect of dysmaturity is that it’s not straight across the board. For example, my nineteen-year-old son with FAS drives a truck, is a welder, and a volunteer firefighter. He does many things a neurotypical teen can do—yet he does not fit in with his peers.

He interacts better with younger children. Now that he’s aware of his brain difference, though, and does not like being different, he refuses to hang out with younger people. My nineteen-year-old prefers the company of his fellow volunteer firefighters, although they are much older than him—and that poses another host of problems!

My son’s receptive language and social skills are more like that of a twelve-year-old. This becomes quite challenging to navigate, especially since his friendships are with older adults.

My husband and I have learned to set our expectations to our boys’ developmental age. We parent through a “brain lens” keeping in mind that prenatal exposure to alcohol and early childhood trauma have impacted the structure and function of their brain.

What do we do about it?

By understanding our child’s developmental age, we can reframe our thinking from “Act your age!” and “What were you thinking?” to accepting where they are at and setting our expectations to that age. When we make that shift in our thinking, our child will be less frustrated, and so will we.

Next Steps

  • Learn everything you can about your child’s diagnosed or suspected condition.

  • Ask yourself, “What if my child’s brain has something to do with his behavior?”

  • Implement accommodations based on your child’s strengths and level of development.

  • Attend one of my online or in-person FASD workshops.

  • Listen to my Adoption & Foster Care Journey podcast, where you can hear insightful episodes about FASD and other topics relevant to parents and caregivers.

  • Join my Hope for the FASD Journey virtual support community for parents and caregivers raising children and youth with suspected or diagnosed FASD.

Listen to my podcast episode on the Primary Characteristics of FASD—Dysmaturity HERE

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