Transition to Adulthood and FASD

Examples of Adaptive Transitions of Young Adults

Young people with FASDs face many challenges when they reach the adolescence to adulthood transition.  They are expected to act in a more independent and “adult-like” way.  Prior limitations on thinking and learning ability continue to influence them at this time, though, so the transition can be difficult.  Usual expectations to finish school, find employment, and meet social expectations may be overwhelming.

Anecdotal reports suggest that alcohol-affected young adults can make successful adjustments with appropriate support and help.   Some cases are outlined in the book, Fantastic Antone Grows Up , by  Judith Kleinfeld, Barbara Morse, and Siobhan Wescott.    For instance, Dr. Anne Ruggles Gere  (2000) and her adopted daughter, Cindy, reported on Cindy’s experiences in and adjustment to college life.   Dr. Gere had developed strategies to improve Cindy’s performance in school.  These included helping her focus on her strengths, providing extra help (such as extra time) at transition times, and breaking tasks into sections.   As Cindy gradually moved from attending college while living at home to attending universities in New Mexico and then Alaska, her mother developed ways to provide long distance support.  She set up out-of-town support networks, maintained contacts at the school, became familiar with program requirements, and encouraged Cindy to take advantage of opportunities to learn through experience where available. 
Another anecdotal report was provided by Mary Lou Canney (2000) on her son Ryland’s development in adolescence.  As Ryland became more independent and obtained experience in the work world, Ms. Canney  (2000) emphasized the role of close, supportive relationships. 

For instance, he was encouraged by his special education teacher to take advantage of work experiences that counted for academic credit.  He worked in the maintenance garage of the state Department of Transportation.  He later obtained a job in a gas station where he worked for three years and eventually planned to go to technical school to study diesel mechanics.  In addition, Ryland became involved in the Big Brothers program, where he was matched with an adult male volunteer who took an interest in him and was a good role model for competent adult behavior.  He and his Big Brother developed a relationship that lasted from the time Ryland was in seventh grade until he was 18 and the official program ended; their friendship continued even after that.  Through his adolescence, Ms. Canney emphasized the importance of social support, including her own relationship with her son, encouragement and interest from teachers and others in the school and work environments, and the relationship Ryland developed with his “Big Brother.”

Marceil Ten Eyck (2000) also discussed her daughter, Sidney, and her transition to adulthood.  She addressed such issues as dealing with relationships, learning to drive, managing money, and finding and keeping a job.  Of particular note, she discussed providing Sidney with opportunities to learn skills necessary for living life on her own and increasing her independence gradually.  When Sidney was still in school, Ms. Ten Eyck focused on how Sidney could ask for assistance for herself.  They developed a 4-stage plan outlining who to approach about problems.   For a problem at school, Sidney would first approach the teacher, then the counselor, etc.  She was able follow the plan when she did have difficulties.  When it was time for Sidney to consider living on her own, Ms. Ten Eyck also taught her daily living skills (for example, food preparation, shopping, housecleaning, maintaining a car) and then allowed her time on her own to try them out.  The time periods gradually increased from a few hours to a weekend to two weeks.  This gave Sidney a chance to gain confidence about being independent.  It was always possible for Sidney to contact Ms. Ten Eyck if she needed help, so she was protected from risk.  While encountering a number of difficulties, Sidney eventually achieved adult role transitions by graduating from high school, moving away from home, finding a job she enjoys, and establishing a happy marriage.  

These anecdotal reports suggest that developing ways to support young adults (for instance, breaking tasks into smaller segments, discussing in advance possible ways to ask for assistance, setting up support networks) may be helpful in dealing with issues arising at this time in development.    They also point up the advantage provided by the presence of a supportive parent or social network, including teachers and other important adults in the lives of adolescents and young adults with FASDs.


Canney, M.L.  (2000).  Ryland’s gift:  How my son taught me to be a good mother.  In Kleinfeld, J., Morse, B. & Wescott, S. (Eds). Fantastic  Antone Grows Up:   Adolescents and Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Fairbanks:  University of Alaska Press, pp.45-59.
Gere, A.R. & Gere, C.  (2000).  The graduate:  College for students with FAS/E.  In Kleinfeld, J., Morse, B. & Wescott, S. (Eds). Fantastic  Antone Grows Up:   Adolescents and Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Fairbanks:  University of Alaska Press, pp.61-78.
Stresssguth. S.P., Barr, H.M., Kogan, J. & Bookstein, F. (1996).  Understanding the Occurrence of Secondary Disabilities in Clients with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE).  Seattle, WA:  Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit, University of Washington School of Medicine.
Ten Eyck, M. (2000).  Living independently:  A mother’s tale.   In Kleinfeld, J., Morse, B. & Wescott, S. (Eds). Fantastic Antone Grows Up:   Adolescents and Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Fairbanks:  University of Alaska Press, pp. 85-101.

Working with Adolescents and Young Adults:

Growing into Young Adulthood (Tenkku)

Working with Affected Women (Grant)

Project Step-Up (O'Connor)










































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