Both ADHD and fetal alcohol exposure are linked to poor academic performance in cognition and attention, so researchers decided to try to pinpoint the exact brain areas affected by each disorder, with the hope that this research could lead to the creation and development of new and improved treatments.
The results will be published in the March 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.
Joseph L. Jacobson, lead author of the study and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said that the goal of the study was to determine if alcohol-related deficits in magnitude comparison (the ability to mentally represent and evaluate relative quantities) seen in children with prenatal alcohol exposure would also be true for ADHD.
"We thought it very interesting that this is not the case. The arithmetic deficit in ADHD is mediated primarily by poorer executive function and attention problems rather than magnitude comparison, which is more often impaired in children with fetal alcohol exposure."
The researchers assessed 262 African-American adolescents at 14 years of age. Their mothers were recruited during pregnancy and interviewed extensively regarding their use of alcohol to determine the amount of alcohol the child was exposed to prior to birth. The children were evaluated for ADHD symptoms at ages 7.5 and 14 by parent/guardian and teacher reports, and their number processing abilities were assessed at 14 years.
The results showed that children with fetal alcohol exposure demonstrated strong deficits in number comparison, while children with ADHD demonstrated deficits in attention and memory. Thus, although number processing is affected in both ADHD and fetal alcohol exposure, the exact cause of the difficulties appears to be different.
Deficits in number processing in children with ADHD and alcohol exposure: Similar but different