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Neurocognitive Functioning and Treatment Implications in Offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Open Access


Other title
Neurocognitive Functioning
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Criminal Behaviour
Justice Involvement
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Flannigan, Katherine R
Supervisor and department
Pei, Jacqueline (Educational Psychology)
Rasmussen, Carmen (Pediatrics)
Examining committee member and department
Truscott, Derek (Educational Psychology)
Roesch, Ronald (Psychology, Simon Fraser University)
Gokiert, Rebecca (Faculty of Extension)
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
Whelton, William (Educational Psychology)
Department of Educational Psychology
School and Clinical Child Psychology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation consists of three separate papers exploring how an understanding of neurocognitive functioning can guide treatment for offenders with FASD. The first paper is a review of the literature on the relationship between neurocognitive impairment and high risk, delinquent, and criminal behaviour, followed by an overview of the needs of offenders with FASD in the context of the current Canadian justice system. This review concludes with the recommendation that a systemic shift, which incorporates a consideration of the biological, psychological, and social factors that impact criminality, will best support pro-social behaviours and reduce recidivism among individuals with FASD. The goal of the second paper was to explore whether young offenders with FASD present with a unique profile of neurocognitive functioning compared to young offenders without FASD. A retrospective file review was conducted on clinical data obtained from neurocognitive assessments with 81 youth with and without FASD (aged 12 to 20 years) in an Alberta young offender treatment program. Relative to a Comparison group, young offenders with FASD displayed a unique neurocognitive profile, with deficits in cognitive flexibility, verbal and working memory, academics, complex processing speed, verbal ability, and inhibition (in males only), and relative strengths in simple processing speed, motor skills, visual memory, and visual-perceptual reasoning ability. These findings are discussed in the context of how we may use information about neurocognitive functioning to guide screening, sentencing, and programming practices for young offenders with FASD. In the third paper, I explored perspectives of service providers working with an innovative justice program in rural Alberta for adults with suspected FASD. The goal was to identify the perceived impacts and challenges of using information from neurocognitive assessments to inform court decisions. Through two focus groups with 18 participants, four themes were identified: building capacity, humanizing the offender, creating bridges, and moving forward. Themes are discussed in reference to existing recommended practices for working with offenders with FASD, and future avenues for research are identified.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Wyper, K., & Pei, J. (2015). Neurocognitive difficulties underlying high risk and criminal behaviour in FASD: Clinical implications. In M Nelson & M Trussler (Eds.), Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Ethical and Legal Perspectives (pp. 101-120). Amsterdam: Springer.

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