FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society
Rages, Confrontations and Weapons
Rages, Confrontations and Weapons
Bruce Ritchie (2005)

Many individuals with FASD have great difficulty controlling their temper. Lack of impulse control and inability to predict consequences can quickly escalate to a rage when they are frustrated about something. The following are some notes taken from a discussion on weapons on the FASlink Forum. The discussion centered around the stabbing murder of Christopher Surbey on June 6, 2005 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His adopted mother, Val Surbey, was the founder of FASlink in 1995.

At that time, Christopher was under a Voluntary Parental Agreement with Child and Family Services, with his case being contracted out to MacDonald Youth Services and he was currently in the Transition program through the Ministry of Youth Services.

Chris required close supervision due to his poor judgment and his inability to avoid risky situations. However, the residential placement provided for Chris only allowed for daytime supervision. His parents pleaded with the agency to supervise him at night as well, as he was at highest risk during the evening hours, when he would go out alone into the community.

Chris was the 8th murder in Winnipeg this year. On July 4th, Winnipeg's 14th murder was committed by a girl who grabbed a kitchen paring knife and slashed the throat of another girl at a party. Alcohol and drugs were involved.

"It's scary enough to let them have a pencil! I had one stab at another and it went under his tongue and made a huge hole."

Almost anything can become a weapon. A pen, pencil, comb, roll of coins, coins in a sock, golf ball, rubber band and paper clip, knitting needle, or a belt buckle or a spike or heavy nut on a string, can all be effective weapons. A favourite gang weapon is a basic bicycle chain or any other heavy chain. Imagine what can be done with a chainsaw chain.

A tightly rolled up newspaper becomes an improvised Kubotan. A standard Kubotan is a short bar, about 6 inches long and half an inch thick made from hard plastic or aluminium, and has a rounded tapered point at one end. It sometimes has a hole in the other end allowing it to hold keys or the like. Kubotans are generally used to inflict pain without causing any physical danger to the target.

Car keys between the fingers are a punching and slashing weapon. A credit card or plastic drivers license is a lethal slashing weapon. High heels are absolutely vicious. A barehanded punch by a woman to the Adam's Apple can instantly disable. Many self-defense courses will teach about all of these. Most bookstores carry a tiny book called SAS Self-defense. It was written by a former Special Air Services officer. It teaches effective strategies for non-lethal extraction from a dangerous situation.

Almost anything can become a weapon. It depends entirely on the situation. A normal household kitchen or workshop is an incredible weapons cache, both in hard objects and chemical weapons. Pepper spray is illegal in Canada but you can buy cayenne pepper by the pound at any grocery store. Nunchucks are simply a pair of short pieces of hardwood doweling (a broom handle will do) joined by a short length of chain. Ammonium nitrite is a basic household and farm fertilizer, but mixed with diesel fuel it is a standard mining slurry explosive and was used by Timothy McVey. A mixture of potassium nitrite, sulphur and charcoal is gun powder. Mixing standard household cleaners can poison or explode. All of this information is readily available at bookstores and on the Internet.

Unless we make a marshmallow world, we are constantly surrounded by things that can be used to maim or kill, including cars. In a rage or a threatening situation, whatever is handy can turn from an innocent object into a lethal weapon. Therefore, the objective is to prevent the rage or the threatening situation.

Head-on confrontations and power struggles, particularly with many individuals with FASD, can rapidly escalate to dangerous levels. We have to learn to defuse the situations quickly.

As silly as it may seem, sometimes humour is actually the most effective weapon to disarm a potentially harmful situation. Some police forces actually take training in its use.That does not mean capitulate and let the kids do something harmful, but tactics like humour or diversion can work wonders.

Strategies to avoid rages vary depending on the age and maturity of the individual. Here are some ideas from FASlink members on how to defuse a confrontation or prevent one in the first place:

  • The appropriate medications can dramatically reduce the likelihood of rages.
  • Humour is a great tension breaker.
  • Quiet voice, whisper, soft tones; sudden or gradual shift
  • Pleasant music, naturalistic sounds [rain forest, dolphins]; equipment ready to go, immediately at hand
  • Change of lighting, shade, warmth or cooling, window blinds, shades; e.g. let a fan blow a soft drape
  • Quick clear change of activity, such as "ah I know - let's paint" and then maybe get the feelings out on the paper and with color
  • Find a safe pillowed chair to sit in for safety, encourage legs curled up and an afghan or pillow on lap; not only the youngest
  • Speak in the child's "voice" and express in rhythm rhyme what they must be feeling such as " I am so so mad. I am so so sad. I do not wannabe bad. I am sad, mad glad that Mama knows I'm not bad, clap clap clap".
  • Make silly putty - from scratch [use pushing, rolling, patting gestures]
  • Make cinnamon rolls - from scratch and put a dot of flour on your noses until you giggle
  • Build an obstacle course with cardboard boxes and a tunnel and a mini ramp and a cardboard table and couch cushions, and keep this placed in storage and on hand.
  • Close eyes and adult talk child through relaxing from head to toe
  • Read a favourite book aloud; maybe even act it out
  • Turn off the TV and unplug the telephone
  • Play monopoly or candyland or checkers and allow the child to make up their own rules and enjoy those immensely
  • Suck on malts, popsicles, juice boxes, fruit smoothie with straws as it organizes one of the sensory avenues
  • Play mime face or peek a boo, with raging face and peaceful face, angry face and silly face in instant presto chang-o
  • Talk about the dog, if the dog is worried we are having some loud words? How can we make life better for the dog?
  • Give permission for anger or frustration in small doll play, or even furry toy animules who can flip and fly and fall and be loved again honing in on not such big outbursts
  • Have a doll house where the rules are a bit more expanded to allow free expression until these come into tone with your home
  • Stop, think, do not speak. If we are silent, sometimes our children come right over to us and ask "muh muh? are you okay?" [right in the middle of their own snit fits]
  • Note: These in no way take the place of medication administration under psychiatric supervision and/or parent/family training in an appropriate FASD enlightened setting.

"FASD - Strategies, not Solutions

  • When you see an outburst coming, distract your child with a short funny story or provide
    something else to look at, touch, eat, etc.
  • If your teen has gotten worked up about something and is angry, redirect her with deep
    muscle work (for example, floor washing or allow her to stomp around in an “angry room”).

Feelings and Emotions

Understanding feelings and emotions is vital to good communication, but both are very abstract concepts. A child or youth with FASD may need concrete methods to help recognize what he is feeling. Therefore, teach emotions in a concrete way (e.g., smiling means happy.)

  • A “check-in” time for internal feelings will help in stating which feelings are physical and concrete.
  • After an outburst, talk about what your child felt during the meltdown; for example, a beating heart, sweaty hands, hot face. Attach the concrete feeling to the meltdown so she can begin to identify what feelings are connected to certain behaviours.
  • In order to be able to act appropriately to any emotion, your child must first have some way to recognize concretely what he is feeling. That feeling must then be named and “rules” for appropriate reaction to that feeling must be made.
  • Create a “feelings” dictionary, using line-drawings of complete stick men rather than just facial expressions for those most common feelings the child is likely to experience. A complete body can show more than just a face and is much easier for the child to associate with what he is feeling. Have one emotion per page.
  • Always name emotions very clearly. With teens and adults, name the emotion first and then follow with the words their friend’s use (“pissed off” vs. “angry”).
  • To encourage emotional expression, use a gingerbread man outline drawing and simple colour codes (e.g.,red for anger, blue for sad, yellow for happy, and grey for blank). Have your child colour on the gingerbread man where he has those feelings. This can give you a quick and immediate idea of the state of emotional health (e.g., red in the head and the hands is a good indicator of being ready to “lose it”; gray in the head and on the body is a good indication of being “shut down”). This will help, especially when the child is not
    able to verbalize his thoughts and feelings.
  • Once the feeling is identified correctly, have a simple plan to help the child. For instance:
    • “Losing it” – use calm down technique
    • Caregiver is “ticked off” – stand still, look at caregiver and listen
    • “Tired” – lie down and rest
    • “Frustrated” – have a list of physical activities that she can do and have her choose between two
    • “Angry” – express it physically in a previously identified acceptable and safe manner

    Do not expect:
    • Insight
    • Application of yesterday’s learning to today’s experiences
    • That the child will remember a feeling from one time to the next without support.

The child will not necessarily be able to understand the emotions of others just because we were able to help him understand his own."

Medication, Location and Diversion

The reality for our kids with FASD as they grow older, is that the primary line of self-defense is for them to be on the proper medications. That way they don't overreact or react inappropriately to situations that can lead to rages and violence. The second critical factor is to keep them away from places where they can get into trouble. The third critical factor is that staff dealing with individuals such as Christopher need to learn how to control without being confrontational, triggering rages. The system failed Christopher on all counts.