Language and Communication Problems

Developmental Considerations

The importance of communication begins during infancy where the foundations are set for more complex skills later in childhood. When care givers vocalize with babies and engage in back and forth interactions they provide modeling experiences that the babies then begin to mimic. If an infant initiates an interaction by staring, babbling, or making facial expressions or gestures, the caregiver's responses (e.g. speaking, physical interactions, and eye contact) helps to reinforce and shape that interaction. This exchange also supports the development of healthy attachment interactions.

Many researchers have found language difficulties in children with FASD. These problems show up when children are trying to understand and express language, and include difficulties:

Room for improvement for Children with FASD:

  • Being able to label something (“naming”)
  • Understanding grammar and speaking with proper grammar.
  • Understanding meaning in language (“semantic ability”)
  • Understanding how context contributes to meaning in language (“pragmatics”)
  • Social communication (i.e. having a conversation and understanding non-verbal cues).
  • Word comprehension

These language difficulties are related to problems with communication, which is also related to social functioning. Social communication (i.e. understanding and using nonverbal cues and retrieving the right words) is often very difficult for people with FASD. They may speak in a disorganized way or have trouble considering the perspective of the person they are talking to.

Depending on the child, they might have slower vocal development or they might be very talkative. A talkative child with FASD may lack richness of thought, speech, or grammar. Speaking with children at all ages is encouraged because it gives them practice and opens them up to learning moments. Asking questions, singing songs, identifying sounds, offering choices, and practicing the alphabet and counting are good ways to engage a child's language and communication skills.

Difficulties with communication may persist into adolescence and adulthood, as individuals with FASD may not develop skills at the same rate as their peers. Difficulties may in fact increase because language and communication demands increase as a person ages.

Language and communication interventions might have a positive effect on the life of someone with FASD. If a child is able to understand a direction given to them, then they might have less difficulty following them. Academics will likely be improved, along with social functioning once the correct intervention is put into place. Language and communication difficulties can cause adverse outcomes. If a person with FASD begins to communicate better they could be less likely to develop mental health issues or have less trouble functioning in a work setting if they can communicate properly.


Communication Strategies That Work!
Video resource about enhancing communication skills for classroom learners (from POPFASD)

What Educators Need to Know about FASD: Working Together to Educate Children in Manitoba with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
FASD overview; common characteristics of FASD; strategies for teachers and parents to assist in meeting the needs of children (from Healthy Child Manitoba)
Language and communication problems: pp. 21-24

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Educational Strategies
Teaching strategies from NOFAS and University of South Dakota; contents include environmental modification, functional assessment, communication, executive function, social skills and behaviour. Resource listings in appendices include: general FASD information, teaching, social emotional books for children, social emotional books for young adults, audiovisual resources and websites
Language and communication problems: Section 4 pp. 37-51
(Receptive Language: pp.40-42)
(Expressive Language: pp. 42-44)

Why Some People Can "Say" or "Talk" More Than They Can Understand and Remember
Nathan E. Ory, M.A., explains the relationship between language and communication difficulties and memory and offers strategies (from POPFASD)

Cognitive Interventions to Improve Language Skills
Video webinar: Dr Carmen Rasmussen and Dr. Jacqueline Pei discuss language interventions in FASD: Research into intervention- efficacy in the lab, does it work in the classroom (is it meaningful), and is it feasible (from FASD CMC Alberta)

Making a Difference: Working with Students who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Comprehensive guide- How to adapt teaching methods to help students affected by FASD in the classroom environment. Includes information on FASD, structure, behaviour, sensory difficulties, language, academics, social skills, and transitions (from Yukon Deartment of Education)
Language and communication information beginning in section 8

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building Strengths, Creating Hope (Programming for Students with Special Needs: Book 10)
Overview of FASD; Concepts for teaching and strategies to help with learning needs (from Alberta Education)
Using language and non-verbal communication students understand: pp. 59-60
Language and communication information and strategies: pp. 93-96

How You Give Choices and Ask Questions Makes a Difference
Practical information written by Nathan E. Ory on how to offer choice- emphasis on wording when giving a choice and how the words may be interpreted (from POPFASD)


Language Development Strategies
Resources and strategies to promote language development for individuals with special needs (from Do2Learn)

Functional Communication
Functional communication picture cards for individuals with special needs (from Do2Learn)

Visual Schedules
Visual schedules for individuals with special needs- written or pictorial instructions may be easier to process for individuals who have difficulty with verbally presented information (from Do2Learn)

Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effects: A Resource Guide for Teachers
Website containing information for teachers (along with strategies) about students with FASD, attention problems, cause and effect thinking, social skills, personal skills, memory, language, motor skills, and specific academic subjects (from BC Ministry of Education)