Inattention & Hyperactivity in Children with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

It is important in clinical practice to use different ways to validate behavioral problems in children. We were interested in whether parent reports of inattention and hyperactivity would be supported by the performance and movement of the child. In the lab, we used a common computerized task to measure inattention (the number of items missed because the child was not paying attention) and a wristwatch device to measure physical activity levels. Three groups of school-age children in the study: children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and control children. Parents of children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and parents of children with ADHD reported significantly higher inattention and hyperactivity compared to control children. However, when considering the objective laboratory measures of inattention and hyperactivity, differences emerged between the ADHD and alcohol-exposed groups. Parent reports of children with ADHD agreed with laboratory measures when evaluating hyperactivity and inattention levels. For alcohol-exposed, only parent reports of inattention were supported by the attention task. Alcohol-exposed children did not differ from control children in terms of hyperactivity, even though the parents reported increased hyperactivity similar to parents of children with ADHD. Therefore, while both children with heavy prenatal alcohol and children with ADHD have significant behavioral problems, alcohol-exposed children do not show the same level of hyperactivity that is common in children with ADHD. These findings can help distinguish children with prenatal alcohol exposure from children with ADHD and suggests that alcohol-exposed children may benefit from treatment recommendations with a strong focus on inattention.

For full manuscript see: Glass, L., Graham, D. M., Deweese, B. N., Jones, K. L., Riley, E. P., & Mattson, S. N. (2014). Correspondence of parent report and laboratory measures of inattention and hyperactivity in children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 42, 43-50.

The research described in this paper was supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) grant numbers U01 AA014834 (Mattson), U24 AA014811 (Riley), U24 AA014818 (Barnett), and U24 AA014815 (Jones). Additional funding was provided through grants T32 AA013525 and F31 AA022261.

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