HOW DOES PRENATAL ALCOHOL EXPOSURE AFFECT EDUCATIONAL APTITUDE AND ACHIEVEMENT?
Global functioning. Alcohol-affected individuals may have global limitations in their learning and problem solving abilities. That is, they may have lower "IQs" than typical children. In such cases, children may have difficulty learning at the same rate as other children and may have trouble as academic skills become more "abstract" later in school.
Executive Functioning, which a name for the way in which we organize information and plan our activities, is a problem area for alcohol-affected individuals who show difficulties in areas that depend on such skills. For instance, they may have difficulty remembering several steps that are required for a task and the order that these steps should be in. Most people seem to have a way of remembering that this kind of organization is required to do things properly but children with FAS seem to have a deficit in this area.
Auditory Processing appears to be a difficulty for some alcohol-affected individuals who are not able to understand a sequence of sounds as effectively as they should. They many not be able to remember a series of number or sounds that they hear. This can interfere with understanding language, remembering instructions and similar problems.
Visual/Spatial Skills. Some individuals with FAS and other alcohol related disabilities have specific disabilities in perception of visual information and in understanding spatial relationships. This may be related to difficulties with fine and gross motor skills and to hand writing.
Specific Math Disability. Perhaps because of difficulties with executive functioning and visual/spatial skills, many alcohol-affected individuals have specific math disabilities. That is, they have a relative difficulty in learning arithmetic and in math concepts compared to their general ability and to language skills.
Memory. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between memory and learning. There are indications that people affected by alcohol have difficulty in learning new information and in retrieving stored information effectively. These may not be the same problem. We often find that people can learn something very well and yet not be able to "retrieve" it. People with FAS may need more practice to learn things and may find that retrieving information is difficulty even when it has been learned.
Attention is often identified as a problem in alcohol-affected individuals. However, recent research, as well as parents’ reports, suggests that the attentional problems in this group are not like the "typical" ADHD. Children with FAS are not typically inattentive and impulsive. They do not have more difficulty than others do in "focusing" on a task. However, they do appear to have more trouble "encoding" (learning) new information that they are focusing on and in shifting their attention from one task to another ("multitasking").
For more information about these learning problems in alcohol-affected individuals, you can read the IOM report on FAS (Stratton et al, 1996).