Alcoholism & Addiction

Study Examines Similarities and Differences in FASD and ADHD Children

With prenatal exposure to alcohol, the impact on behavioral, cognitive and social development is often referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a recent post in Science Daily compared the attention and cognition problems to those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Joseph Jacobson is a professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the corresponding author of a study that found while children with FASD may meet the behavioral criteria for ADHD, the attention difficulties in these individuals differ in subtle yet important respects.

"ADHD is clinically diagnosed primarily on the basis of observations by the parent, teacher, and clinician regarding the degree to which a child exhibits specific behavioral symptoms, such as difficulty sustaining attention to and completing tasks or play activities, failure to listen when spoken to directly, impulsivity, talking out of turn, or difficulty sitting still," explained Jacobson.

"A large proportion of children with a history of prenatal alcohol exposure exhibits these behavioral characteristics and, therefore, may meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD."

Participants in Jacobson’s research who had been diagnosed with ADHD, regardless of their prenatal alcohol exposure, were less accurate at inhibiting responses. The ADHD group without prenatal alcohol exposure showed a unique ERP brain wave pattern. This reality could reflect a more effortful strategy related to inhibitory control.

"The data support the notion that information processing difficulties in children with prenatal alcohol exposure who exhibit ADHD symptoms may differ from those seen in children with idiopathic ADHD, even though behaviorally both groups may exhibit inattention and hyperactivity," said Jacobson.

"The ERP data suggest that different neurophysiological processes may be responsible for the attention problems seen in these two groups, which may explain why psychostimulant medication, which is often effective in treating idiopathic ADHD, is reported to be less effective in children with ADHD behavioral symptoms who were prenatally exposed to alcohol."

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