The Neurodevelopmental Consequences of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Elizabeth Welch-Carre, RN, MSN, NNP


Adv Neonatal Care. 2005;5(4):217-229. 

In This Article

Primary and Secondary Disabilities

For individuals who have PAE, receiving a diagnosis is paramount. A formal diagnosis is the eligibility passcard that unlocks the doors to early intervention, the most effective treatment. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause significant neurological damage. This damage manifests as primary disabilities and cognitive or behavior deficits that can be directly attributed to maternal alcohol use. Examples of primary disabilities are mental retardation, hyperactivity, memory difficulties, perseveration, attention deficit disorder, poor judgment, impulsiveness, and difficulty with abstract concepts and problem solving.[1]

Secondary disabilities are the long-term behavioral issues often associated with FAS. Six secondary disabilities commonly observed are mental health problems, disrupted school experience, trouble with the law, imprisonment, inappropriate sexual behavior, and substance abuse problems.

Early diagnosis, early intervention, and a stable home decrease the risk of secondary disabilities in individuals with PAE.[14] These factors are particularly important for individuals with normal intelligence, because they generally do not qualify for special education and other traditional services.[14]


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