To provide an analysis of multiple predictors of cognitive and behavioral traits for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Multivariate correlation techniques were used with maternal and child data from epidemiologic studies in a community in South Africa. Data on 561 first-grade children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial FAS (PFAS), and not FASD and their mothers were analyzed by grouping 19 maternal variables into categories (physical, demographic, childbearing, and drinking) and used in structural equation models (SEMs) to assess correlates of child intelligence (verbal and nonverbal) and behavior.
A first SEM using only 7 maternal alcohol use variables to predict cognitive/behavioral traits was statistically significant (B = 3.10, p < .05) but explained only 17.3% of the variance. The second model incorporated multiple maternal variables and was statistically significant explaining 55.3% of the variance. Significantly correlated with low intelligence and problem behavior were demographic (B = 3.83, p < .05) (low maternal education, low socioeconomic status [SES], and rural residence) and maternal physical characteristics (B = 2.70, p < .05) (short stature, small head circumference, and low weight). Childbearing history and alcohol use composites were not statistically significant in the final complex model and were overpowered by SES and maternal physical traits.
Although other analytic techniques have amply demonstrated the negative effects of maternal drinking on intelligence and behavior, this highly controlled analysis of multiple maternal influences reveals that maternal demographics and physical traits make a significant enabling or disabling contribution to child functioning in FASD.