Background: It is widely known that prenatal alcohol exposure is related to cognitive and behavioral deficits throughout childhood and adolescence. Much research has focused on understanding and quantifying the cognitive profile of children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) with relatively less empirical research on behavioral or psychosocial adjustment. The primary purpose of this study was to examine the behavioral and psychosocial profile of children exposed to heavy amounts of alcohol prenatally.
Method: Two groups of subjects were evaluated: an alcohol-exposed group (ALC) and a nonexposed control group (NC) each made up of 32 subjects matched for age, gender, and ethnicity. The alcohol-exposed group consisted of children heavily exposed to alcohol in utero, including 19 children diagnosed with FAS. The Personality Inventory for Children (PIC) was completed by the caretaker of each child. Four validity/screening scales and 12 clinical scales were scored for all subjects.
Result: Analyses revealed significant group differences on four validity/screening scales and 12 substantive scales. Within the ALC group, the profile of children without FAS was similar to that of children with FAS, with the exception that their profiles were consistent with less cognitive impairment.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that in addition to previously reported cognitive impairments, heavy prenatal alcohol exposure is related to significant impairments in psychosocial functioning. Even children without alcohol-related physical anomalies suffer from impaired psychosocial functioning. Because impairments of this nature can interfere with functioning across multiple domains, effective early intervention programs should be considered for families of alcohol-exposed children. Furthermore, given the similarities of alcohol-exposed children with and without FAS, it is imperative to obtain prenatal alcohol exposure histories on all children experiencing cognitive or psychosocial deficits.