Background: Behavioral disturbances are well documented in children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. However, the degree to which these disturbances are related to factors other than alcohol, such as general intellectual functioning or socioeconomic status, is not known.
Methods: Using the Child Behavior Checklist, parent-rated behaviors of children with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure were compared with those of a control group matched by age, sex, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and verbal IQ score. Using this same questionnaire, children with fetal alcohol syndrome were compared with children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure that did not meet the criteria for fetal alcohol syndrome classification.
Results: Data were analyzed by multivariate analyses of covariance. In the comparison of children with and without a history of prenatal alcohol exposure, significant differences were found on the competence, problem, and summary scales (all p < 0.05). For the secondary comparison between the fetal alcohol syndrome and the heavy prenatal alcohol exposure groups, there were no significant differences on any of the scales (all p > 0.10).
Conclusions: These results suggest that prenatal alcohol exposure results in the significant and profound impairment of parent-rated behaviors and that these deficits are not explained entirely by the presence or absence of facial dysmorphology, general intellectual functioning, or demographic factors.