Defining the behavioral phenotype in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: a review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(2):192-201. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2006.06.020. Epub 2006 Aug 23.


While there exists a large body of literature on cognitive functions in children with prenatal alcohol exposure, it remains undetermined if these children exhibit a unique profile of cognitive-behavioral functioning or a behavioral phenotype. Researchers have consistently found that intellectual functioning, as assessed by IQ tests, of children with prenatal alcohol exposure is deficient. There is increasing evidence that prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with slow information processing and attentional problems, in particular inattentiveness. Studies examining specific cognitive abilities such as language, visual perception, and memory in alcohol-affected children have shown performance decrements associated with increased task complexity. Children with prenatal alcohol exposure have also been found to exhibit significant deficits in daily functional skills or adaptive behavior, with deficits in socialization becoming pronounced during adolescence. The above findings point to the conclusion that a generalized deficit in complex information processing constitutes the central cognitive-behavioral characteristic of children with prenatal alcohol exposure. Researchers have consistently documented that specific brain regions are more affected by alcohol than other regions. The problem of mapping focal anomalies of the brain with a generalized pattern of deficits can be solved by taking developmental processes into consideration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavioral Symptoms / etiology*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Problem Solving
  • Visual Perception