Cognitive Supports

Strategies and Accommodation to Support Employment in People with FASD

Cognitive Supports for Employees with FASD​

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Employer Reflections

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Cognitive Supports for Employees with FASD

This section provides a list of types of accommodations and adjustments an employer may need to consider implementing for their employees with FASD. 

Note that each type of accommodation and adjustment is specific to each type of difficulty that is commonly seen in FASD. 

Consistent and repeated use of the techniques listed can improve the chances of their success in creating a work environment that is conducive to good outcomes for people with FASD. 

We will cover cognitive supports for 9 cognitive challenges of employees with FASD and Justice system involvement:

  1. Attention
  2. Generalising
  3. Memory
  4. Language and Communication
  5. Decision Making and Judgement
  6. Difficulties Initiating Tasks
  7. Difficulties Carrying out a Plan of Action
  8. Impulsivity (including poor inhibition and lack of self-control)
  9. Self-awareness and insight
Cognitive support 1 of 9


Attention is an important aspect of our daily work and promotes thoroughness, accuracy and consistency when accomplishing our tasks. 

Being able to attend to our work ensures that we complete it to a high standard, minimises the likelihood of errors and reduces the amount of supervision needed. 

Paying attention, particularly for long periods of time, can be challenging to the individual with FASD. These difficulties with attention may be misinterpreted by employers as carelessness or a lack of motivation.

Common difficulties with attention can include:

Dr Richard Cash


Cognitive support 2 of 9


Generalisation means having the ability to transfer skills and knowledge learnt in one setting to other settings, people and activities.

This is an important skill to have in the workplace as it ensures flexibility and ease when learning new tasks and activities.

Given their cognitive difficulties, generalising can be challenging for people with FASD.

Poor generalisation can include:

Strategies to Support Generalisation

Cognitive support 3 of 9


Moments of forgetfulness are commonplace.

It is not useful nor efficient for our brain to remember everything!

With moments of forgetfulness come mistakes, such as forgetting to show up to a meeting or forgetting to do a task.

These can be embarrassing and frustrating and can potentially impact our efficiency and goals. Difficulties with memory can be a common aspect of living with FASD.

Memory difficulties can include:

Strategies for Memory

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Language and Communication

Good communication is the oil that keeps a business moving and successful.

Good communication amongst employees, the management and consumers lead to better outcomes. Communication also promotes a healthier and less stressful workplace.

Communication is often challenging for the individual with FASD due to difficulties with language.

Difficulties with language and communication can include:

Further language and communication difficulties can include:

Dr Annabelle Nankoo


Cognitive support 5 of 9

 Decision Making and Judgement

The ability to make decisions and exercise sound judgement are valuable skills in the workplace as this helps employees to make mindful choices that increase chances of favorable outcomes. 

The person with FASD can have compromised decision-making skills and judgments, leading to:

 Strategies to promote/support decision-making and judgment

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Difficulties Initiating Tasks

Task initiation refers to one’s ability to get started on a task and to overcome procrastination, even if they are reluctant to do the task.

When someone struggles with initiation, they take longer to do the task and require more effort.

Persons with FASD can struggle with task initiation which can manifest as:

 Strategies to promote better task initiation:

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Difficulties Carrying out a Plan of Action

Problems with successfully accomplishing tasks independently in people with FASD can occur due to difficulties with getting organised, planning tasks, managing or coping with the difficulty of the task.

Difficulties completing tasks can look like:

 Strategies to maximise task completion:

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Impulsivity (including poor inhibition and lack of self-control)

Being able to inhibit one’s behaviour is crucial in putting a brake on any undesirable or unwanted behaviour.

An example of such an unwanted behaviour is checking one’s phone rather than focusing on a task at hand. 

People who are impulsive can act before thinking things through adequately. People with FASD can have problems with impulsivity, including in the workplace. 

Impulsivity can mean:

Dr Kirsten Panton


Cognitive support 9 of 9

Self-Awareness and Insight

Being self-aware refers to knowing one’s own strengths, weaknesses, and habits.

Self-awareness in the workplace allows one to take in what is going on around them and to consider them more thoroughly. 

Self-awareness difficulties can include:

Strategies to promote self-awareness and insight

Employment Professionals and Employers: Reflections

The success an individual with FASD enjoys on their employment journey relies on your support and influence as the employment professional.

This places you at the center of the client’s employment experience. Hence, your ability to reflect on your practice can help you grow, learn and, in turn, better support clients with FASD as they transition out of the Justice system and engage in more positive and fulfilling life experiences, such as work. 

Below is a reflective practice exercise suggestion for you which includes ideas of things that you may need to know and do to support the individual with FASD and a Justice system background on their employment journey. 

Need to Know/Reflect on…Need to be Able To… 
Your own understanding of FASD and that of the community.Access and keep abreast of information regarding FASD. 
Your own biases towards people with FASD and those of the community.Challenge your ways of thinking about FASD, for example, by seeking alternative ways of thinking about FASD or interacting with people with FASD.
FASD is a brain injury.Integrate and apply knowledge of FASD into your workplace by adopting suitable practices and accommodations. 
FASD is permanent and irreversible.Not seek to change the person but adapt the environment to suit their needs.
Employers’ values and business considerations.Understand and negotiate with the employer to create situations of mutual benefit. 
The level of comfort your clients feels at work and what additional supports they might need.Engage in conversations with the client and encourage collaborative conversations between the client and yourself as their employer.
The presence of support workers at work. Encourage blending in and being discrete. 
The balance between the person with FASD's level of autonomy with their need for supports.Provide supports as needed and requested for the client; seek advice as to when to phase in these supports. 
There will be good days and bad days at work (e.g., two steps forward and three steps back). Be flexible and stay positive.
Who is in the person’s support network and who can be called if needed. Collaborate with the client’s support network.  
Your own boundaries, tolerances and well-being. Practice self-care and utilise your own support network. 


Kirrily Clarke



Wesley Citizen is a 23-year-old man who was diagnosed with FASD as a child.

He is a very outgoing person of normal intelligence, however, makes poor decisions, acts impulsively and does not appear to learn from his mistakes. He has spent much of his time in and out of prison for committing illegal acts, some petty and some more serious than others.

Due to his history of illegal behavior, Wesley has missed significant periods of schooling and ceased school after Year 9.

In fact, he has always struggled at school with teachers commenting that he did not pay attention in class, was lazy and careless, disturbed his classmates and was behind his peers in developing his numeracy and literacy skills.

In prison, however, he has participated in educational and vocational programs.

He has developed excellent culinary skills which he is proud of.

Wesley has recently been released from prison and his parents have welcome him back home.

Wesley feels like he’s found a new lease on life and is determined to change his ways.

His goals are now to join a sports club, make new friends, find work in a restaurant, and hopefully have a family of his own. 

Wesley’s family home is located in a neighborhood that has a notoriously high rate of crimes.

His childhood friends who are his neighbors, have themselves been in prison for several crimes, some of them more serious than the ones committed by Wesley have heard of his recent release from prison.

They decide to visit Wesley to see if he will hang out.