Research: Executive Functioning Correlates With Communication Ability in Youth With Histories of Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

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 2018 Nov;24(10):1026-1037. doi: 10.1017/S1355617718000772.

Doyle LRMoore EMColes CDKable JASowell ERWozniak JRJones KLRiley EPMattson SNCIFASD.



Caregivers of youth with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure report impaired communication, which can significantly impact quality of life. Using data collected as part of the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD), we examined whether cognitive variables predict communication ability of youth with histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure.


Subjects (ages 10-16 years) comprised two groups: adolescents with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (AE) and non-exposed controls (CON). Selected measures of executive function (NEPSY, Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System), working memory (CANTAB), and language were tested in the child, while parents completed communication ratings (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales – Second Edition). Separate multiple regression analyses determined which cognitive domains predicted communication ability. A final, global model of communication comprised the three cognitive models.


Spatial Working Memory and Inhibition significantly contributed to communication ability across groups. Twenty Questions performance related to communication ability in the CON group only while Word Generation performance related to communication ability in the AE group only. Effects remained significant in the global model, with the exception of Spatial Working Memory.


Both groups displayed a relation between communication and Spatial Working Memory and Inhibition. Stronger communication ability related to stronger verbal fluency in the AE group and Twenty Questions performance in the CON group. These findings suggest that alcohol-exposed adolescents may rely more heavily on learned verbal storage or fluency for daily communication while non-exposed adolescents may rely more heavily on abstract thinking and verbal efficiency. Interventions aimed at aspects of executive function may be most effective at improving communication ability of these individuals. (JINS, 2018, 24, 1026-1037).

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