Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) have a high risk of psychiatric problems, particularly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, or both.
Often children with FASD are initially diagnosed with ADHD.
A new study is the first to examine a range of cognitive factors and social behavior in children with FASD and ADHD, finding that those with FASD have significantly weaker social cognition and facial emotion-processing abilities.
Results will be published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.
“Behaviorally, FASD and ADHD can look quite similar, particularly with respect to problems with very limited attention, physical restlessness, and extreme impulsivity,” explained Rachel Greenbaum, a clinical psychologist with the Children’s Mental Health Team at Surrey Place Centre in Toronto, who conducted the study as part of her doctoral dissertation.
“However, social deficits in children with neurodevelopmental disorders may have different underlying mechanisms,” noted Piyadasa W. Kodituwakku, associate professor of pediatrics and neurosciences at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “For example, children with ADHD experience social problems because of poor self-regulation rather than deficient knowledge of appropriate social behavior. In other words, a child with ADHD may accurately recite social rules, but fail to apply them. In contrast, social difficulties in a child with autism may result from a fundamental deficit in social sense, referred to as mind-blindness. Thus, when delineating qualitative differences in social phenotypes of neurodevelopmental disorders, it is important to assess not only observable behaviors, but also their underlying cognitive mechanisms.”
This study looked specifically at social-cognition and emotion-processing abilities, said Joanne Rovet, a professor at the University of Toronto and senior scientist in neurosciences and mental health at the Hospital for Sick Children, and supervisor of the fetal alcohol research program.
“‘Social cognition’ refers to the ability to consider and differentiate between the beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and intentions of oneself and others,” said Rovet, who is also the study’s corresponding author. “This involves understanding the meaning of social information and knowing how to interact appropriately. These abilities are important for communicating and relating successfully with others. ‘Emotion processing’ refers to understanding and processing information related to feelings. This includes the ability to recognize and differentiate between varied emotions in others and in oneself. These skills are also important for relating and communicating socially with other people.”
“Our findings show that ? overall, children with FASD have more severe behavioral problems,” said Rovet. “In terms of social cognition and emotional processing, the core deficit in FASD appears to be in understanding and interpreting another’s mental states and emotions.”
Source: University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Canada