Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) have particular difficulty understanding numbers and sequences, a University of Alberta study shows.
An assessment of 50 Canadian children diagnosed with FASD, a condition caused by the mother's alcohol consumption while a fetus is still in the womb, revealed that the youngsters had specific deficits in memory for numbers and sequences, which may contribute to common math difficulties faced by these children. Prenatal alcohol abuse often leaves them with losses in physical, behavioural, emotional and social functioning.
The findings of the study, published in the December issue of Child Neuropsychology, may help refine assessments of FASD children and provide a 'neurobehavioural profile' to ensure they receive the most effective treatment possible, said lead author Dr. Carmen Rasmussen, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.
"Knowing this would help in classrooms with FASD children," said Rasmussen. The typical teaching rate may be too rapid for children with FASD, resulting in large amounts of missed information, she said. "The study definitely has implications for treatment and education down the road."
The FASD children, aged six to 15 years, scored lower than other 84 per cent of other children their age on memory tests for numbers and sequences.
The study also revealed differences among ethnicities. Aboriginal children (35 in the study) and non-aboriginal children (15) showed different patterns of strengths and weaknesses in neurobehavioural functioning. Aboriginal children had stronger visual memories than verbal memories, while non-aboriginal children showed just the opposite.
This distinction offers the opportunity to adjust for subtle cultural or sociological differences in treatment and education programs, and it also gives a valuable heads-up to parents, Rasmussen suggested. "If parents know what their child's strengths and weaknesses are, they can help work on those skills."
Rasmussen theorizes that aboriginal children may have stronger aptitude in visual memory thanks to their culture, which focuses on holistic and hands-on interactive learning.
This study is the first to show these specific strengths and weaknesses in aboriginal and non-aboriginal children diagnosed with FASD.
The research was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.