Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) represent a major public health concern, with prevalence estimates as high as 1 in every 100 live births. This spectrum of disorders is associated with a broad range of neuropsychological and behavioral impairments, from diminished general intelligence to subtle attention and motor deficits. These deficits provide clear evidence of the effect of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure on the brain and have been supported by neuroimaging studies. Early identification of affected individuals can lead to better outcomes, however intervention research in this population remains limited. One promising rehabilitation effort has focused on improving behavior and math functioning in children with FASD. This intervention is crucial given the importance of mathematics for academic and vocational success. However, current interventions could be greatly improved if more was understood about the underlying processes related to math difficulties in children with FASD. The current proposal seeks to evaluate mechanisms of mathematics abilities in children with FASD by testing their core capacity to represent and process numerical information using methods borrowed from the cognitive neuroscience literature. Fundamental numerical processing refers to a range of skills including one's implicit and automatic understanding of exact quantities of small collections of objects and of the approximate magnitude of larger sets of objects and the ability to accurately map between numerical magnitude and symbolic representations of numerosity (i.e. Arabic numerals). These early abilities are associated with later mathematics achievement and serve as the foundation on which high-level mathematics processing, such as complex calculations, are built. The extant literature suggests that children with prenatal alcohol exposure have math difficulties, however the nature and specificity of these deficits have not been thoroughly examined. Furthermore, prenatal alcohol exposure is related to brain abnormalities in areas known to be associated with mathematics ability and numerical processing, particularly the parietal lobe. The overarching goal of the current study is to characterize mathematics deficits in children with FASD by evaluating specific processes that may be related to mathematics performance.
The specific aims of the proposal are to (1) evaluate mathematics achievement in children with FASD and typically developing controls and (2) investigate fundamental number processing skills and the extent to which they are associated with mathematics abilities across groups. It is hypothesized that children with FASD will show deficits in basic numerical processing skills and that these abilities will be positively related to their mathematics achievement.

Public Health Relevance

This project is directly relevant to public health concerns surrounding the effects of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. Mathematics is an essential cognitive skill given its importance for academic and vocational success and deficits in this domain have been reported in children with FASD. Greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying mathematics difficulties in FASD will contribute to the neuropsychological profile of children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and will inform intervention strategies aimed at remediation of deficits in this critical functional domain.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Matochik, John A
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San Diego State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
San Diego
United States
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Ware, Ashley L; Glass, Leila; Crocker, Nicole et al. (2014) Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder on adaptive functioning. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 38:1439-47
Mattson, Sarah N; Crocker, Nicole; Nguyen, Tanya T (2011) Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: neuropsychological and behavioral features. Neuropsychol Rev 21:81-101