Adverse childhood experiences in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and their effects on behavior

Kautz-Turnbull C, Rockhold M, Handley ED, Olson HC, Petrenko C. Adverse childhood experiences in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and their effects on behavior. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research. 2023 Feb. DOI: 10.1111/acer.15010. PMID: 36811189.



Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) have high rates of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs are associated with a wide range of health outcomes including difficulty with behavior regulation, an important intervention target. However, the effect of ACEs on different areas of behavior has not been well characterized in children with disabilities. This study describes ACEs in children with FASD and how they impact behavior problems.


A convenience sample of 87 caregivers of children (aged 3 to 12) with FASD participating in an intervention study reported on their children’s ACEs using the ACEs Questionnaire and behavior problems on the Eyberg Child Behavior Inventory (ECBI). A theorized three-factor structure of the ECBI (Oppositional Behavior, Attention Problems, and Conduct Problems) was investigated. Data were analyzed using Pearson correlations and linear regression.


On average, caregivers endorsed 3.10 (SD = 2.99) ACEs experienced by their children. The two most frequently endorsed ACE risk factors were having lived with a household member with a mental health disorder, followed by having lived with a household member with a substance use disorder. Higher total ACEs score significantly predicted a greater overall frequency of child behavior (intensity scale), but not whether the caregiver perceived the behavior to be a problem (problem scale) on the ECBI. No other variable significantly predicted the frequency of children’s disruptive behavior. Exploratory regressions indicated that a higher ACEs score significantly predicted greater Conduct Problems. Total ACEs score was not associated with Attention Problems or Oppositional Behavior.


Children with FASD are at risk for ACEs, and those with higher ACEs had a greater frequency of problem behavior on the ECBI, especially conduct problems. Findings emphasize the need for trauma-informed clinical care for children with FASD and increased accessibility of care. Future research should examine potential mechanisms that underlie the relationship between ACEs and behavior problems to optimally inform interventions.

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