Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) impacts an estimated 5% or more children born in the USA and is associated with life-long neuropsychological deficits. Early identification is essential but access to diagnostic evaluation is limited. This study reports on the effectiveness of training child psychologists to identify and measure the salient physical features of PAE.
Children, 8–13 years, were divided into two groups: (1) children meeting criteria for PAE (n = 46) and (2) typically developing controls without PAE (TD; n = 36). Child psychologists were trained to reliability measure height, weight, occipital frontal circumference (OFC), and the characteristic facial features of FASD independent of knowledge of PAE history.
Groups differed significantly on meeting the diagnostic criteria proposed by Hoyme et al. (Pediatrics, 138:e20154256, 2016) on height, OFC, upper vermillion border, philtrum, and palpebral fissure length. They did not differ on weight. All children in the alcohol exposed group could be classified as meeting criteria for an FASD whereas none in the unexposed group met criteria.
This study demonstrated that child psychologists, blind to PAE history, could be reliably trained to assess the physical features of children with PAE. Because early diagnosis and intervention is of paramount importance, we propose that inclusive diagnostic criteria for FASD and the use of psychologists and other allied health professionals, trained to screen for the diagnosis, should be expanded in clinical practice.