Attention Deficits in Alcohol-Exposed, Hyperactive and Normal Children
Nanson, Josephine Louise
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Prenatal exposure to ethanol is now recognized as a cause of mental retardation, borderline intellectual development and hyperactivity in children. The purpose of this study was to investigate activity and attention in a group of children with FAS and its milder variant, fetal alcohol effect (FAE) and to compare their behavior to children with ADD and normal children. The subjects were 20 children, diagnosed as FAS or FAE ; 20 with attention deficit disorder (ADD), and 20 normal children, aged 5 to 12 years. Each child received a short form of an 1O test and three attention demanding tasks, presented via microcomputer. The child's parent completed three questionnaires regarding the child's activity level. The attention-demanding tasks were chosen to tap the areas of attention that Douglas (1983) has identified as deficient in ADD children. The tasks chosen were the Choice Reaction Time Task (CRTT), the Delay Reaction Time Task (DRTT), and a variant of the Continuous Performance Task (CPT). The children with FAS/FAE were significantly more retarded in their intellectual development than were either of the other groups but the parental ratings on all three measures suggested that both the FAS/FAE and ADD children were considered to be hyperactive and inattentive in comparison to the normal children. Both the FAS/FAE children and ADD children scored within the hyperactive range on the questionnaires. In summary, the FAS/FAE children had difficulty with the investment, organization, maintenance of attention over time; with the modulation of arousal to meet situational demands; and with the inhibition of impulsive responses. The ADD children had difficulty with the investment, organization and maintenance of attention over time, and showed an inability to inhibit impulsive responses. Both groups of children were considered to be over- active and impulsive by their parents. The results suggest that although children with FAS/FAE are significantly more retarded than are children with classical ADD, the behavior problems of both groups of children are similar.