Oral and written communication skills of adolescents with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) compared with those with no/low PAE: A systematic review


Background: Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is associated with growth deficits and neurodevelopmental impairment including foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Difficulties with oral and written communication skills are common among children with PAE; however, less is known about how communication skills of adolescents who have PAE compare with those who do not. Adolescence is a critical time for development, supporting the transition into adulthood, but it is considered a high-risk period for those with FASD.

Aims: We conducted a systematic review to synthesize evidence regarding oral and written communication skills of adolescents with PAE or FASD and how they compare with those with no PAE.

Methods & Procedures: A comprehensive search strategy used seven databases: Cochrane Library, Cinahl, Embase, Medline, PsycInfo, Eric and Web of Science. Included studies reported on at least one outcome related to oral and written communication for a PAE (or FASD) group as well as a no/low PAE group, both with age ranges of 10–24 years. Quality assessment was undertaken.

Main Contribution: Communication skills most often assessed in the seven studies included in this review were semantic knowledge, semantic processing, and verbal learning and memory. These communication skills, in addition to reading and spelling, were commonly weaker among adolescents with PAE compared with those with no/low PAE. However, the findings were inconsistent across studies, and studies differed in their methodologies.

Conclusions & Implications: Our results emphasize that for adolescents with PAE, communication skills in both oral and written modalities should be comprehensively understood in assessment and when planning interventions. A key limitation of the existing literature is that comparison groups often include some participants with a low level of PAE, and that PAE definitions used to allocate participants to groups differ across studies.

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