Day 16 of 99 Days to FASDay: Confabulation


Today’s NB tip is all about confabulation. I must admit I do not think I had ever heard the word confabulation before I adopted the maiden. I learned rather quickly though that she wasn’t lying – she was confabulating:

[k uhn-fab-y uhley-sh uhn]
1. the act of confabulating; conversation; discussion.
2. Psychiatry. the replacement of a gap in a person’s memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.

According to Teresa Kellerman in an article on the Come Over To website:

Making up stories and telling tall tales is a normal part of being a typical 4-5 year old. Scientific research done by Dr. Edward Riley shows that many kids with FASD have an arrested social development that stops at about the level of a 4 to 6 year old. Is it reasonable for us to expect them to develop the social and moral conscience of an adult, or even that which we would expect of a typical 8-, 10-,or 12-year-old (whatever chronological age we might be dealing with)?

Even though our children’s ability to control the lying might be impaired, rather than excuse the behavior, we need to deal with it in an effective manner.

So next time your child or adult son or daughter tells a tale that seems too tall, try to think about the brain based difference and see the bigger picture. Make enquiries, ask questions, investigate. Help them recall an incident instead of confronting them.

One of the techniques a therapist suggested we use to help the maiden with her recall was to draw a cartoon like picture to find out what happened BEFORE the incident as well as AFTER, not just the actual incident. For instance, if there was an incident that happened during recess, we drew a picture of the incident. Then we worked backwards and forwards. This didn’t always help, but sometimes I was able to get the bigger picture. I also learned rather quickly to ask teachers for their perspective, before I made up my mind about an incident based on the report from the maiden.

Here are some tips and strategies from FASD Network of Saskatchewan (Canada):


2022 Update:

There are still so many parents and caregivers who think their kids are lying on purpose or manipulating them to get what they want. I am not a professional, so all I can do is offer the information and try to point people to do their own research. I was trying to respond in a group – because we have information on confabulation – but I wanted to find information on the manipulation and lying. It isn’t FASD specific, but it offers something to think about.

From an article: The Manipulation Myth

Much of today’s parenting advice focusses on the idea that children, right from birth, manipulate their parents. The advice encourages parents to keep control and never allow their children to ‘get their own way’. It is a combative approach which not only believes children to effectively be the enemy, but also ones capable of scheming and plotting from the day they are born. The manipulation paranoia stems from an age of parenting with the belief that the power of any situation should always be with the adult and that children should respect their elders, but do not deserve the same back.

In order to manipulate their parents, babies, toddlers and even older children need the following skills:

  • Hypothetical Thinking
  • Critical and Rational Thinking
  • Empathy
  • Impulse Control

These cognitive skills lie in the domain of the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is one that is responsible for high functioning abilities. This area of the brain is what differentiates us from our mammalian cousins. This area of the brain is the very last to develop. Scientists believe that the final development of the prefrontal cortex does not occur until the child enters their twenties, or even until twenty five years of age.

Believing that babies and young children can and do manipulate us predisposes to parent as two teams. Us against them. It predisposes us to punish and ignore, rather than connect and understand. Ironically this ‘us and them’ attitude and ignorance of a child’s true needs is far more likely to create a manipulative child in the future. If we raise our children to know that their needs will be met, they will have no need to manipulate us in the future. If a baby cries, they need to be picked up, if a toddler tantrums they need us to calm them. The only thing we create when we respond is trust, and trust and manipulation are two very different things.

I would encourage parents and caregivers to view behaviour as a need not being met. Get curious and try to find out what is behind the behaviour and respond to that need. Not the expression of the need. Then work on modelling and teaching regulation and ways to appropriately express or manage emotions when the child is calm. I don’t think you need to call your child a liar or manipulator in order for them to grow up not being a liar or manipulator.

In my younger years, one of the jobs I wanted to do “when I grew up” was to be a detective, like Jim Rockford on the television show The Rockford Files. I guess in my own way I did. My investigative skills are highly developed since adopting the maiden!

Come back tomorrow for another useful tip!

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