Public Release: 

Research pinpoints devastating impacts of fetal alcohol syndrome

University of Sydney

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are affected by a range of problems, including anxiety, depression, aggression, delinquency and diminished learning capacity a new review of evidence reveals.

Published today in the journal Pediatrics, the research is the first to comprehensively describe behaviours in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) observed by teachers and parents using an empirically based assessment system.

"The finding highlights the need for strategies for early intervention, both to help children with self-regulation and to support teachers and caregivers in managing behaviour at school and at home," said the University of Sydney's Professor Elizabeth Elliott, a study co-author.

Researchers noted three main kinds of behavioural problems in children with FASD:

  • "Internalizing" behaviours such as, anxiety, withdrawal or depression
  • "Externalizing" behaviour, such as aggression, delinquency
  • Other problems, such as problems with social skills, thought processing and attention.

"FASD is the tragic result of alcohol use in pregnancy and is characterised by birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems," said Professor Elliott. "Worldwide, including in Australia, FASD is increasingly recognised by health professionals, teachers and the criminal justice system as a cause of difficult behaviour, learning problems, and contact with the justice system."

"Behaviours seen in FASD impair social interactions, academic performance, and mental health. Without appropriate assessment and treatment, these children experience lifelong difficulties with mental ill health, substance abuse and unemployment and many are unable to live independently."

Academics from the Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health at The University of Sydney (Sydney Medical School), undertook an exhaustive review of published literature reporting behaviours in children with FASD and prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE).

All studies using the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (ASEBA): School-Age Forms were included. This widely used and validated assessment tool includes the Child Behaviour Checklist, the Teacher Report Form and the Youth Self-Report form.

The study's lead author, Dr Tracey Tsang, said, "Our findings allow us to create a behavioural profile for FASD based on multiple studies from around the world and will inform the assessment and treatment of FASD."


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