The many behavioral problems experienced by children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders require early attention, a new research review suggests.
This group of health problems — caused by mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy — may include anxiety, aggression, inattention and more, the researchers found.
They analyzed published studies and identified three main types of behavioral problems among children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: “internalizing” behaviors such as anxiety, withdrawal and depression; “externalizing” behaviors such as aggression and delinquency; and other issues such as problems with social skills, attention and thought processing.
The study, by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, was published online Feb. 23 in the journal Pediatrics.
“The finding highlights the need for strategies for early intervention, both to help children with self-regulation and to support teachers and caregivers in managing behavior at school and at home,” said study co-author Elizabeth Elliott, a professor of pediatrics and child health at the university.
Worldwide, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder “is increasingly recognized by health professionals, teachers and the criminal justice system as a cause of difficult behavior, learning problems and contact with the justice system,” she said in a university news release.
Behaviors associated with the disorder impair social interactions, academic performance and mental health, Elliott added. “Without appropriate assessment and treatment, these children experience lifelong difficulties with mental ill health, substance abuse and unemployment, and many are unable to live independently,” she said.
Study lead author Tracey Tsang, a senior research fellow in pediatrics and child health at the university, added that the findings provide a behavioral profile based on multiple studies from around the world. This will aid the assessment and treatment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.