Executive functioning deficits in preschool children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Anita J. Fuglestad, Marisa L. Whitley, Stephanie M. Carlson, Christopher J. Boys, Judith K. Eckerle, Birgit A. Fink, Jeffrey R. Wozniak

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46 Scopus citations


Executive function (EF) deficit is a hallmark of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), but the vast majority of available evidence comes from school-age children and adolescents. Very little is known about EF during the critical developmental period prior to 6 years of age in FASD. We evaluated EF in 39 children with FASD (3.0-5.5 years) and a comparison group of 50 age-matched, nonexposed controls. Measures included the EF Scale for Early Childhood and a Delay of Gratification task. Compared to age-matched controls, preschool children with FASD had impairments on the EF Scale and showed more impulsivity on the Delay of Gratification task. To confirm the EF Scale finding, FASD group performance was compared to a separate normative dataset (N = 1,400). Those with FASD performed below normal (M = -0.57, SD = 0.92). Within the FASD group, IQ was correlated with the EF Scale (partial r =.60, p =.001) and Delay of Gratification (partial r =.58, p =.005). EF Scale performance did not differ significantly across levels of FASD severity (fetal alcohol syndrome [FAS], partial FAS, or alcohol-related neurobehavioral disorder [ARND]). However, compared to normative data, those with FAS had the largest deficits (M = -0.91 SD from the mean, SE = 0.23), followed by partial FAS (M = -0.66 SD from the mean, SE = 0.26), then ARND (M = -0.36 SD from the mean, SE = 0.20). These novel data show that EF deficits manifest well before the age of 6 years in children with FASD, that they occur across the spectrum, and that EF may be most impaired in children with more severe forms of FASD and/or lower IQs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-731
Number of pages16
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the families who participated in this research. We also thank Carrie Moore for her assistance during data collection. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (5R21AA019580; R33AA01958) and from the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute, University of Minnesota, and by the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute grant support [UL1TR000114 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)]. The study sponsors had no role in the study design, the collection, analysis and interpretation of the data, the writing of the manuscript, or the decision to submit this manuscript for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Taylor & Francis.


  • Delay of Gratification
  • Executive function
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FAS, FASD)
  • Prenatal alcohol exposure


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