However, those children exposed to heavy drinking before they were born were less able to understand the meaning of a stimulus, paid less attention to specific tasks and had poorer memory processing than the healthy controls, Jacobson and his co-authors reported. Their findings will appear in the January 2011 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
"The advantage of this technique is it lets you break down the different stages of the memory process," Jacobson said in an interview.
With the Inuit children, he said, testing identified deficits in the initial processing of the information and also "in the later stage, when they're trying to retrieve information." He said these kinds of insights could help therapists design more effective exercises that would help these children learn better.
Those learning differences are a focus of clinicians who work with these youngsters.
"The interesting thing here is that although the kids are not differentiated by the performance on the tasks, the brains of FAS kids have to 'work harder' so to speak, that is process the information for longer periods of time and less efficiently than do typically developing kids to arrive at the correct response," said Clancy Blair, a professor of applied psychology at NYU.
The new study came out two days before Jacobson and Blair were to join other U.S. and Canadian experts in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders at Emory University in Atlanta to discuss innovative ways to address the learning problems, attention problems and other disabilities faced by children, teens and young adults exposed to alcohol in the womb.
Conference participants will discuss games that help youngsters with FASD improve their skills, ways to help autistic children with prenatal alcohol exposure, nutritional interventions for mother and child, and ways to deter problem drinking among teens with the disorder.