Autism and developmental abnormalities in children with perinatal cocaine exposure

J Natl Med Assoc. 1992 Apr;84(4):315-9.


Cocaine in all forms is the number one illicit drug of choice among pregnant women. Records of 70 children with cocaine exposure in utero who were referred for developmental evaluation at a large inner-city hospital were reviewed in an effort to determine whether a specific pattern of abnormalities could be discerned. Patients received physical examinations, neurological screenings, and behavioral and developmental assessments based on the Gesell Developmental Inventory, and the Denver Developmental Screening Test. Documentation of specified drug use was obtained by history. Mean age (SEM) at referral was 19.2 (1.7) months. All mothers used cocaine in one of its forms, although polydrug use was common. Growth parameters were low (median = 15th percentile). Significant neurodevelopmental abnormalities were observed, including language delay in 94% of the children and an extremely high frequency of autism (11.4%). The high rate of autistic disorders not known to occur in children exposed to alcohol or opiates alone suggests specific cocaine effects.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / etiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cocaine*
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Cocaine