A comparison of children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997 Feb;21(1):150-61.


Behavioral deficits are often noted in children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and other individuals with prenatal alcohol exposure, including mental retardation, learning problems, social problems, and deficits in attention. Because attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been diagnosed so frequently in children with FAS and other alcohol related birth defects, there has been speculation that alcohol is an etiological factor in ADHD. To examine the relationship between behavior characteristics of children with fetal alcohol exposure and those seen in children with a diagnosis of ADHD, 149 low socioeconomic status (SES), African-American children (mean age = 7.63 years) were given a battery of neuropsychological and behavioral tests. One hundred and twenty-two were a sub-sample from a longitudinal study of prenatal alcohol exposure, whereas twenty-seven were identified in an ADHD Clinic. Children were given two sets of tests: (1) "traditional model" of conventional behavioral and psychiatric measures of ADHD and externalizing behavior; and (2) measures of neurocognitive functioning reflecting a four-factor model of the neurological basis of the components of attention (Mirsky AF, in Integrated Theory and Practice in Clinical Neuropsychology, Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989). Results indicated that children with the physical characteristics associated with prenatal alcohol exposure and those with a diagnosis of ADHD had equivalent intellectual abilities with both clinical groups performing more poorly than contrast children from the same SES and ethnic groups. However, there were clear distinctions on behavioral and neurocognitive measures between the two clinical groups with those with ADHD performing more poorly on conventional tests sensitive to attentional problems and conduct disorder. When these two groups were compared on measures designed to measure the model of the four factors of attention by Mirsky, they were noted to have distinct patterns of deficits. These results suggested that the alcohol-affected children did not have the same neurocognitive and behavioral characteristics as children with a primary diagnosis of ADHD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Black or African American* / psychology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Wechsler Scales