Social Difficulties

Social functioning is a part of adaptive function.

Social deficits can be seen in the form of poor social problem solving, social information processing, difficulty understanding others’ viewpoints, and poor understanding of social expectations and rules. Social strengths may include getting along with co-workers, making new friends, and recognizing social cues. 

Developmental Considerations

In younger children, difficulties in social functioning may include trouble taking turns, difficulty getting along with other kids. They might “play with other children” by playing alongside them rather than playing with them in a mutual way. Lack of social awareness in terms of stranger anxiety is also a concern with children with FASD.

As the child ages, poor social problem solving and information processing may lead to inappropriate actions in social situations. Difficulty understanding others’ viewpoints may result in the individual responding inaccurately to others’ feelings or actions.

Social expectations are increased into adolescence and adulthood. Researchers have shown that increased social demands in adolescence and adulthood are associated with increased social difficulty. Interacting with peers gradually becomes more than just playing and getting along. As we age, we are expected to develop a better understanding of subtle social cues and self-control.

When someone with FASD seems to constantly have trouble getting along with others it does not mean that they are a "bad friend" or that they don't care how their actions affect others. It may mean that they are having trouble understanding social situations

Some factors that may contribute to social difficulties:

  • Deficits in aspects of executive function such as problem solving, regulating their own actions, decision making, and planning.
  • Difficulties with language and communication.
  • Behaviour issues (i.e. lying, cheating, lack of consideration of others).
  • Difficulty understanding consequences.
  • Difficulty understanding feelings and emotions.
  • Social learning throughout the lifespan.
  • Difficult life experiences (many children with FASD grow up in unstable environments).
  • Familial/genetic factors.

Improving on some social difficulties such as lack of stranger anxiety in younger children and the desire to “fit in” in older children, can help avoid victimization.

For adolescents and adults social learning interventions such as role modeling social behaviours and rehearsing social situations, may help with building skills while discussing expectations and limitations, and determining strategies for identifying unsafe social situations may help develop environmental supports. Having good social skills as adolescents and adults has the potential to reduce adverse outcomes such as mental health issues (i.e. depression), problems in the workplace, and drug or alcohol use.


Making and Keeping Friends
Tips from Lutherwood in Waterloo region on how to help your child make and keep friends

Social Skills Elementary
Video resource for helping elementary students develop social skills (from POPFASD)

Social Skills Secondary
Video resource for helping secondary students develop social skills (from POPFASD)

Reach to Teach: Educating Elementary and Middle School Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
FASD overview and strategies for improving school success– reviews FASD, cognitive challenges, social skills, negative behaviours, environmental accommodation (from SAMHSA)
Information on sensory difficulties: pp. 27-28

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
Social difficulties: pp. 43-45

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
Social skills and behaviour: Section 7, pp. 121-132

Animal Assisted Therapy and Clients with FASD
Video webinar with handouts presented by Kristine Aanderson. Discusses therapy for individuals with disabilities using animals and the possible benefits of this kind of therapy, including increased social interactions (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)
Social information beginning in section 10

Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): A Comprehensive Guide For Pre-K -8 Educators
FASD overview, teaching and learning strategies for the classroom (Written by Chandra D. Zieff, M.Ed. and Rochelle D. Schwartz-Bloom, Ph.D.)
Contains information and strategies for social difficulties (see chapter 6)

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)
Teaching adaptive and social skills: pp. 36-43
Adaptive behaviours and social skills information and strategies: pp. 83-85

A Controlled Social Skills Training for Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Research paper by O'Connor, M. et. al about a social skills intervention completed with children with FASD

Project Good Buddies: Parent-Assisted Social Skills Training for Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Presentation by Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Psy.D. on a social skills intervention for kids with FASD


Social Skills Strategies
Social skills page from Do2Learn- Strategies and resources to improve social skills for individuals with special needs

Social and Behavioural Skills
Social and Behavioural skills picture cards for individuals with special needs (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 (information and strategies), personal skills, memory, language, motor skills, and specific academic subjects (from BC Ministry of Education)

Stepping Out on Saturdays (SOS) (Manitoba)
A respite program through Manitoba's Rehabilitation Centre for Children for children 5-12 years old with an FASD diagnosis, or suspected diagnosis. This one day per month camp program is available throughout Manitoba and provides respite to parents while providing opportunities for children to develop social skills, self regulation, fine motor and gross motor skills.

Summer Camp: The Stuff Dreams are made of
This overnight summer camp takes place from July to August with a week dedicated to various age groups of boys and girls with FASD from 7 to 17 years old. The camp is hosted by the Lakeland Centre for FASD in Cold Lake, Alberta. The children will take part in multiple daily activities and learn daily living skills, leadership, socialization skills and respect for self, others, culture and the environment