News Release: Research, School of Medicine

Mar. 3,  2009

Learning and Behavior Improve in Alcohol-Affected Children Following Intervention

Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FAS(D)), including those with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), benefit from a comprehensive intervention that includes individualized instruction with children and provision of tools for parents, caretakers and teachers that support learning and improvements in behavior.

The study was published in the February 2009 Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The Math Interactive Learning Experience (MILE) curriculum is a comprehensive intervention program that was tested on children between the ages of three and 10 years with neurodevelopmental problems resulting from prenatal alcohol and drug exposure, FAS(D). Symptoms of FAS(D) range from cognitive impairment and poor academic functioning to behavioral disorders that are difficult to treat.

MILE provided the structure and support necessary for children, and provided caregivers and teachers with tools to reduce over-arousal and difficult behavior.

In a previous study, participants were assessed before the intervention and immediately following completion. However, the effects of interventions are often not persistent, particularly when there is neurological damage. 

In this follow-up study, participants were re-contacted and reassessed at six months post completion to determine if positive results on math functioning and child behavior would persist after treatment discontinuation.

"It has been difficult to find educational categories and methodologies that fit these children's needs," says Claire D. Coles, PhD, study author and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, and director of the Marcus Autism Center Fetal Alcohol and Drug Exposure Center.

"This study demonstrates that using the appropriate teaching methods with children and having committed and consistent involvement of both the school system and the caretakers creates an environment that supports learning for children who have impairments that make schoolwork difficult," says Coles.

The clinical trial was conducted at the Marcus Autism Center, an affiliate of Emory-Children's Center and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. The children were randomly assigned to a math intervention or to a standard psycho-educational contrast group. The math intervention group received six weeks of individualized instruction using the MILE model.

Recognizing the importance of the family and the educational environment, the MILE model involved caregivers and teachers. In addition to learning how to provide learning readiness and behavioral improvement, caretakers were educated on the developmental impact of prenatal alcohol exposure. Caretakers also were instructed on how to find social services for children who needed support with their medical regimens or with therapeutic interventions to facilitate their socio-emotional adjustment. Teachers were provided with information about FASD and the MILE methods.

The six-month follow-up confirmed that both math skills and behavior of alcohol-affected children are improved significantly by interventions designed to meet their specific learning and behavior needs.

"The results of these studies represent a hopeful beginning in designing and evaluating interventions for alcohol-affected individuals and their families" says Coles.

This study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Cooperative Agreement U84-CCU320162-02.

Also involved in the study were Julie A. Kable and Elles Taddeo, Marcus Autism Center; the Emory-Children's Center and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.

Reference:  "Math Performance and Behavior Problems in Children Affected by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: Intervention and Follow-Up"; Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Vol. 30, No. 1, February 2009

Marcus Autism Center is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities, treating more than 3,200 children a year. Marcus Autism Center offers services with generous philanthropic support from community leaders and funding from local and state governments. The Marcus Autism Center staff of highly trained pediatric professionals is supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Marcus Autism Center is committed to helping children realize their greatest potential.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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