Arrested Social Development

(Teresa Kellerman's response to a parent's question)

Dr. Edward Riley in San Diego has done some interesting studies on comparing the social developmental level to the IQs of several children with FAS/E.

One quote from the full report echoes what parents of adults have been trying to say for a long time, in the face of teachers, professionals and family members who expect the person with FAS to act their age, when indeed they CAN'T: "Children with FAS appear to plateau in social abilities at about the 4- to 6-year-old level, which suggests arrested development. This interpretation is further supported by Streissguth et al, who found that adolescents and adults with FAS had social abilities age-appropriate for a 6-year-old child, and by Steinhausen et al, who showed that children with the social abilities of FAS did not imporve with age."


Vol. 5, No. 1, 1999 Page 7

Arrested social development seen in FAS

Individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) often are retarded, but a new study indicates that they also suffer from social deficits "beyond what can be explained by low IQ scores"-a finding which may help explain why FAS is a risk factor for behavioral problems and criminality.

S. E. Thomas et al. compared 15 children with FAS to two control groups, one matched for verbal IQ and another with normal or high IQ scores. The researchers say that "the children with FAS were most impaired on [tests assessing] interpersonal relationship skills." Furthermore, they say, social deficits were more pronounced in older children with FAS, "indicat[ing] that there may be arrested, and not simply delayed, development of social abilities in children with FAS."

"Comparison of social abilities of children with fetal alcohol syndrome to those of children with similar IQ scores and normal controls," S. E. Thomas, S. J. Kelly, S. N. Mattson, and E. P. Riley, Alcohol Clin Exp Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, April 1998, pp. 528-533. Address: S. E. Thomas, Institute of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425.

ALCOHOLISM Clinical and Experimental Research
April 1998, Vol. 22, No. 2

Comparison of Social Abilities of Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to Those of Children with Similar IQ Scores and Normal Controls

by Suzanne E. Thomas, Sandra J. Kelly, Sarah N. Mattson, and Edward P. Riley


Children diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) were assessed with items from the social skills domain of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) via interviews with their caregivers. Their scores were compared with scores from children in two control groups. The control groups included children matched for IQ to the FAS group (specifically on verbal IQ, henceforth, the VIQ group) and children with IQ scores in the average to above-average range (normal control group). Forty-five children (age range, 5 years 7 months to 12 years 11 months) were assessed (n/group = 15). All groups differed with regard to social ability, as measured by the VABS (NC > VIQ > FAS), even when the effects of socioeconomic status were held constant. The three subdomains of the VABS social scale (interpersonal relationship skills, use of play and leisure time, and coping skills) were assessed, and results showed that the children with FAS were most impaired on the subdomain that assessed interpersonal relationship skills. An additional measure was constructed by obtaining an age-equivalent score for the VABS social scale and calculating a difference score by subtracting the child's chronological age from his/her age-equivalent score. There was a significant correlation between chronological age and difference scores for children in the FAS group but not for children in the two control groups. Specifically, in older children with FAS, there was an increased discrepancy between their ages and their age-equivalent scores, a discrepancy that was not present in children in the control groups. These results suggest that social deficits in children with FAS are beyond what can be explained by low IQ scores and indicate that there may be arrested, and not simply delayed, development of social abilities in children with FAS.

A copy of the full report can be obtained from:

Edward P. Riley
Professor, Department of Psychology
San Diego State University
6363 Alvarado Court, Suite 209
San Diego, CA 92120-4913

FAS Community Resource Center