Neurocognitive profile in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2009;15(3):218-24. doi: 10.1002/ddrr.73.


The question of whether children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) exhibit a unique neurocognitive profile has received considerable attention over the past three decades. The identification of a syndrome-specific neurocognitive profile would aid in diagnosing prenatally exposed children with cognitive deficits who do not exhibit clinically discernable physical anomalies. The current review of the literature, therefore, focuses on the studies of higher-order cognitive skills in children with FASDs with a view towards delineating a pattern of cognitive functioning. Researchers have documented that children with FASDs show diminished intellectual functioning, with average IQ scores falling within the borderline to low average ranges. Slow information processing and disturbances of attention have been observed from infancy through adulthood in individuals with FASDs. Clinical and experimental reports on individuals with FASD have documented marked deficits in executive functioning, particularly in tasks that involve holding and manipulating information in working memory. Studies examining specific domains of cognitive functioning such as language, visual perception, memory and learning, social functioning, and number processing in individuals with FASDs have revealed performance decrements associated with increased task complexity. The above findings converge on the conclusion that children with FASDs have a generalized deficit in the processing and integration of information. We recommend the study of developmental trajectories of both elementary and higher-order functions in future research on FASD to elucidate the development of this cognitive profile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence
  • Language Development Disorders / diagnosis
  • Language Development Disorders / psychology
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychomotor Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychomotor Disorders / psychology
  • Reaction Time
  • Social Behavior