Comparison of motor delays in young children with fetal alcohol syndrome to those with prenatal alcohol exposure and with no prenatal alcohol exposure

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006 Dec;30(12):2037-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00250.x.


Background: Researchers are increasingly considering the importance of motor functioning of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The purpose of this study was to assess the motor development of young children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) to determine the presence and degree of delay in their motor skills and to compare their motor development with that of matched children without FAS.

Methods: The motor development of 14 children ages 20 to 68 months identified with FAS was assessed using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS). In addition, 2 comparison groups were utilized. Eleven of the children with FAS were matched for chronological age, gender, ethnicity, and communication age to: (1) 11 children with prenatal alcohol exposure who did not have FAS and (2) 11 matched children without any reported prenatal alcohol exposure. The motor scores on the VABS were compared among the 3 groups.

Results: Most of the young children with FAS in this study showed clinically important delays in their motor development as measured on the VABS Motor Domain, and their fine motor skills were significantly more delayed than their gross motor skills. In the group comparisons, the young children with FAS had significantly lower Motor Domain standard (MotorSS) scores than the children not exposed to alcohol prenatally. They also had significantly lower Fine Motor Developmental Quotients than the children in both the other groups. No significant group differences were found in gross motor scores. For MotorSS scores and Fine Motor Developmental Quotients, the means and standard errors indicated a continuum in the scores from FAS to prenatal alcohol exposure to nonexposure.

Conclusions: These findings strongly suggest that all young children with FAS should receive complete developmental evaluations that include assessment of their motor functioning, to identify problem areas and provide access to developmental intervention programs that target deficit areas such as fine motor skills. Fine motor delays in children with FAS may be related to specific neurobehavioral deficits that affect fine motor skills. The findings support the concept of an FASD continuum in some areas of motor development.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / drug effects
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / drug effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Time Factors
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol