9th Aug, 2008

Developing a Conscience

When I picked Seth up from school the other day he clambered into the car and asked me “Mum, do you have five dollars on you?” When I answered that I didn’t and what did he need it for, he looked sheepishly away and said “I stole it last week, so I have to return it to the office”.

Well, I was momentarily flabbergasted as this is not typical of Seth’s behaviour.  Despite having FASD, stealing other people’s stuff has never been an issue although I have suspected him of sometimes taking the odd coins laying around.  Rather than making  accusations on those occasions I’ve given the talk about how I need to trust other family members not to take money I leave in places like the car, or the zip pouch on the pusher, so I was surprised that Seth would steal so publicly.

Before driving away from school we discussed the incident, and it seems that, despite a little embarrassment, he was not too concerned about what he did.  I felt better for it having been a group crime – he and another boy had each stolen a five dollar note while a couple of others watched out for the return of the office lady. At least it spreads the accountability around a bit.

Remembering a find I made while doing the washing a few days previously, I asked Seth what he’d done with the money.  He was a little vague about this, replying that he must have spent it at the milkbar or something.  “Surely you’d remember spending five dollars…”, I prompted (while recognising Seth’s memory deficits, surely spending a ‘windfall’ of five dollars on chips and lollies would be memorable within the last couple of days).  “I don’t remember ” he replied, with no concern.

“Well” I said to him, “I’m just wondering about the wet five dollar note I found in the washing machine the other day.  I guess it must have fallen out of someone’s pocket. I was wondering whose it was.” His eyes lit up and he exclaimed “Oh, yeah, so I didn’t spend it.  I can take it back to the office tomorrow”.

I questioned him then about how they were found out and whether there were other consequences to their crime, apart from paying the money back.  It seemed one of the “watchers” felt guilty the next day and told his mum what had ensued so she’d rung the school.  Seth and the other young boy were drawn out of class separately to explain their case and given a little talk about stealing and trust, but there were no disciplinary procedures except to talk to their parents about it and to return the money.

I discussed this issue of trust with Seth for a while but I found it quite frustrating as he just didn’t seem to care or understand that others at the school may not trust him now.  I even did a bit of role playing suggesting an example of a friend who won’t let him near his bag in case he steals from it, but Seth just thought that was silly….”My friends know I won’t take their stuff”.  He was more troubled when I pointed out that he won’t be able to collect and count the money on “special food Wednesdays” any more so I laboured that point for a while in the hopes of him developing some sense of the consequence of his misdemeanour.

Then I asked him “So if you weren’t planning to spend the money, why did you steal it?” and he replied, ” It was exciting and we wanted to see if they could catch us!”

Although this is what I’d expect from my dare devil son, it worries me like hell because he’s not even a teenager yet so how’s he going to be in a few years?  It’s enough of a risk for any young teenager, being egged on by his peers and wanting to impress, but how much harder for our kids with their fetal alcohol affected brains to make the right decisions when they don’t see the consequences and are impulsively seeking an adrenalin rush by taking exciting risks?

It reminds me of an article I read a while ago, possibly recommended by a fellow blogger, which described so well why kids with FASD are seen to have an under-developed conscience.  This helped me to understand better how a sensitive and empathic child like Seth, who has a great deal of compassion for animals and children suffering or in need and is always so apologetic if he accidentally hurts somebody, can show little remorse for some of his actions and how they affect others.

I was glad the teacher (his classroom teacher thankfully, the only authority at the school who Seth responds well to) had dealt with the incident in a low key manner, as blustering and punishing would simply have set up Seth for defensiveness and anger and caused behavioural difficulties with further repercussions.  She later told me Seth’s response to being withdrawn from class and spoken to was quite appropriate, and he was quite ok with the kid who had “dobbed” them in, understanding that it was the right thing to do.  He admitted that stealing was wrong, but didn’t really indicate why he thought so.  She certainly didn’t feel that it had kept him awake at night as it had done the other little boy who didn’t even take the money!

Seth’s been going well these last few weeks since school resumed after the term break but, with the school production and a two day camp coming up, there will be breaks to his routine and extra unstructured time so I hope he manages to keep on track through all these changes.  I’ll keep you posted.


Interesting. I have a daughter with FAS and so I took great interest in reading this.

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