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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 11, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are exposed to alcohol before they are born are more likely to have problems with their social skills, according to new research.
Having a mother who drank during pregnancy was also linked to significant emotional and behavioral issues, the study found. However, these kids weren't necessarily less intelligent than others.
The researchers, Justin Quattlebaum and Mary O'Connor of the University of California, Los Angeles, say their findings point to an urgent need for the early detection and treatment of social problems in kids resulting from exposure to alcohol in the womb.
Early intervention could maximize the benefits since children's developing brains have the most "plasticity" -- ability to change and adapt -- as they learn, the study authors pointed out.
The study, published online and in a recent print edition of Child Neuropsychology, involved 125 children between 6 and 12 years old. Of these kids, 97 met the criteria for a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The researchers assessed the children's thinking as well as their emotional, social and behavioral development.
Children exposed to alcohol before birth had more social problems, even after the researchers took IQ into account. These children also had much lower scores than other kids on a number of tests. For example, they were less able to connect past experience with present actions or understand why people do the things they do. They also performed worse on tests of their organizational and planning skills, attention and working memory.
Parents of these kids also reported that their children showed more inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. They were also more likely to have symptoms of depression, the authors noted in a journal news release.
Although the study tied a number of social, emotional and thinking problems in children to their mothers' alcohol use during pregnancy, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on alcohol use during pregnancy.