Why Do People with FASD (Especially Children and Teens) Lie, or Avoid Telling the Truth?
From time to time, FASD-affected persons may confabulate; that is, report remembering events or conversations that never happened.
Some experts describe confabulation as something that occurs when a person does not know the answer to the question but responds by offering an answer to it with no intention to deceive the one asking the question.
The inability to separate fantasies from reality is a common occurrence among people suffering from differing forms of brain damage, and it is not a deliberate attempt to deceive. Most children and teenagers with FASD will confabulate occasionally.
Confabulation in someone with FASD is caused by damage to the prefrontal cortex (frontal lobes) of the brain. This damage causes the individual to create and then to believe in false memories or perceptions. Sometimes the events did not happen at all and are based only in the imagination. At other times, FASD confabulations are caused by actual events that are combined with stories the child might have heard from others being mixed together into a false memory or belief.
Lies are untruths told deliberately. Lies are usually much simpler than confabulations, and once you understand confabulating you should sometimes be able to tell the difference. For instance, if you see your child break a cup, hide the evidence and then tell you they didn’t do it, you have been lied to. It may seem like a brilliant idea at the time to your child to lie, in order to get out of trouble, to avoid having to do an unpleasant task, or even to be left alone.
Being angry with or punishing a child who leads a parent or teacher on a “wild goose case” caused by a confabulated memory is not uncommon. The fact is, he or she cannot be cured of this behavior; and he or she is not aware they are doing it. It is part of the executive functioning disorder of FASD, and not a character defect. You might always have to deal with confabulations.
Unlike confabulations, lies usually should be disciplined in some form. Lying should be disciplined so your child learns that it is not acceptable behavior, and that you expect him to learn to stop. However, it’s true that lying and bad decision making are often caused by impaired executive functioning skills, which is a characteristic of the brain damage caused by FASD.
The more parents can control the environment and the child’s ability to act up in it, the less frequently the child will have the need to lie or the opportunity to lie, and the less frequently will the parent need to discipline the child about it.
The following comes from a message sent by a parent to an FASD email discussion group, on the subject of “Lies, lies, and more lies!” in 2012:
I have found the following helps me deal with (lying) better and helps everyone (in my family) feel better.
- Accept that confabulation, and perseveration are a part of how (my daughter’s) brain works, and it is not done with a deceptive intention. I try to use the phrases “inaccurate information” and “accurate information” (instead of truth or lying). I have found this is less inflammatory to her than the accusatory statement, “You are lying to me.” Which I still slip up and say, and it doesn’t go well, nor does it get me closer to having accurate information, which is really what I am wanting!Also, there are times when she flat out lies, usually to avoid a negative consequence-this is human nature. The tricky part is telling the difference between confabulation and lying. My daughter knows her brain works this way and we have taught her that language-confabulation, and to ask herself, “What evidence do I have for what I am stating” “How can I VERIFY that this is accurate?” These questions are answered by stuff outside of her brain. For example, verifying with a classmate, examining an area to see if she cleaned it, etc.
- It took us a while to realize this one, but on a regular basis, my daughter struggles to differentiate between her thoughts and external events. She can honestly believe she completed something because she THOUGHT IT, and didn’t take it the step further to turn that thought into action. We interpreted this as lying, until we realized what was going on. We now know to state, “It sounds like you thought about it, but forgot to do it.” She responds quite well to this approach (when is she not raging).
- I use language that minimizes her having to tell me things from free recall, which increases chances that inaccurate information will be given: for example, “Show me your homework” or “Show me your clean room”; etc. We have to do this with everything: her chores, her personal hygiene, etc. This requires an inordinate amount of supervision, even more than my 5-year old needs. This works also because of her difficulty distinguishing between thoughts and actions.
- With teacher instructions: they either have to write it down and send it home for me to see, OR my daughter writes it down and they SIGN OFF that she accurately wrote down the instructions (particularly with changes to assignments, due dates, etc.). Or, the teacher emails me with the information. I try not to rely on my daughter’s ability to recall verbal information – she is dismal at it, and frequently confabulates, through no ill intentions, and is usually the opposite – she is TRYING TO DO GOOD! Often, people around her are talking too fast, she can only process a few parts of a conversation, or instructions, and she doesn’t even know she is missing the other parts.
- When there is an issue of when I need to ask her about something: (for example, stolen money from my purse because I forgot to lock it up) I deal with my feelings (betrayal, anger, fear for her future if she steals from someone other than her immediate family) before I go to her. I tell her in a loving voice(even a neutral tone and expression are interpreted by my daughter as angry, and it doesn’t matter who they are coming from) that I need to share something with her, and I want her to JUST LISTEN and NOT respond. I state the facts and then state “I want to know WHEN this happened, and WHAT was done with it.”
If your child with FASD alleges that someone has hurt them, stolen from them or whatever other story comes up, sometimes it’s easy to discount their remark. This happens especially if he or she has a history of taking the belongings of others without permission, or of getting into fights at school, etc.
Before assuming that your child’s story is either true or a confabulation, however, ask him or her enough questions to see if the story makes sense. There may be parts of the story that seem believable, and other parts that cause the narrative to completely fall apart. When the narrative is consistent over time and can be corroborated by others, you may then be justified in taking additional steps, as appropriate.