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Transition to Adulthood

Your role as an advocate will not end at 18 years of age.  Many of the difficulties common in the teen years with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder continue for adults and additional challenges occur. For an adult, the expectation from society is independence; to be able to support oneself, manage housing, food, transportation, money, relationships, health, and personal safety. Decision making belongs to the adult. Caretakers no longer provide supervision, structure, and routine. In FASD, the typical profile is one of dysmaturity. There can be a gap between chronological and developmental age.  A  24-year-old may be developmentally closer to 12 years of age, still needing supervision and support. 


Postponing the transition to adulthood can be helpful.  An 18-year-old with FASD may developmentally be much younger. Work with your adult at their developmental age, not chronological. Reset your expectations and think of the transition to adulthood in stages. Adults with FASD may need help with making decisions. Being discreet and working with them rather than dictating is recommended.  Many with FASD will only function as well as his or her support system functions.

Re-think success. Some adults with FASD will attend college, but many do not.  Success can come in many forms; look to the strengths in your adult and help them find an avenue to pursue. 

Because brain damage is life long, most adults with FASD continue to need assistance. An adult with FASD often functions as well as their support system functions and their willingness to accept help.  The level and need will be different for each person, however, in FASD, the life goal is typically not for independence but interdependence, with identified adults stepping in as coaches.  Coaches can help with things like appointments, managing money/paying bills, finding and keeping a job, help identify and understand harmful situations, etc.

Support System

  • Use of alcohol and drugs: start early in talking about vulnerability to substance use and beware of what your behavior models to them.

  • Driving: beware that slow processing speed and decreased ability to multi-task can raise safety concerns. Decide if your adult can handle the increased freedom driving brings 

  • Unplanned pregnancy: Help the adult pick a method of birth control that will work consistently. A missed pill can result in pregnancy.

  • Healthcare providers and government agencies will no longer talk with you when your child turns 18 years. See if can get a Hippa Release, power of attorney or if you need guardianship.

  • Difficulty understanding risk and danger: talk to your adult in concrete terms and role-play what they will do.  Stay alert.

  • Many people with FASD cannot work full time: Volunteer work can be a good entry. Some will need a job coach or a more supported work environment. Accommodations can occur at work.

  • SSI is difficult to obtain: Document the history of your loved one's struggles from childhood on.

  • Regional Center services may be difficult to obtain:  These services are often essential for life long support. 

  • Isolation from peers: Cultivate interests while young, volunteer work, social institutions (, connecting with others with FASD via online groups.

Key Issues and Strategies

Adults with FASD are making their voices known, becoming a force for better understanding of the disability in adult years and asking that research focus on what happens after childhood. It is important to look at an adult with FASD as an individual and to recognize both strengths and weaknesses. It is also vital to recognize that the challenges of FASD do not go away at 18 years of age. In addition, functioning can change as the person gets older. What was not possible in the twenties, may become possible in the thirties. 

Adults with FASD are taking charge

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