Drinking alcohol or using drugs during pregnancy or while nursing has been proven to cause behavior problems in early childhood affecting the child's memory and attentiveness in areas such as cognitive performance, information-processing, and attention to tasks - areas vital for success in school and life. However, not all babies exposed show these negative physical, mental or emotional effects from perinatal exposure to alcohol, drugs or tobacco. No one knows which children or infants may be affected.


We do know that the following factors lessen the chance of damage to the fetus’s brain:

  • Stop use as soon as possible

  • Get prenatal care and regular check-ups (for you and your child)

  • Eat a good diet

  • Stop smoking or being around people who smoke.


We also know that the following are protective for children who have been exposed:

  • Getting an early diagnosis

  • Living in a stable and nurturing home

  • Never having experienced violence 

  • Getting 8-10 hours of sleep consistently

  • Having a predictable environment especially for meals and bedtime.

Successful interventions 

  1. Adapt the environment:

  • Have a predictable structure, routines and rituals with clearly posted, stable daily routine

  • Build transitions into routine

  • Keep it simple: limit exposure to people, visual/auditory stimulation including TV, violent movies

  • Reduce stimuli in rooms ‑ remove materials and equipment 

  • Have clearly defined spaces. 

2.   Teach using multiple sensory modalities: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, emotion and action

  • Are concrete rather than abstract 

  • Keep directions simple: one at a time

  • Teach and model appropriate ways to express feelings, social skills and appropriate behavior to accomplish tasks.

3.   Modify expectations regarding timelines and transitions:

  • Use behavioral/physical cues to help direct or re‑direct

  • Modify goals without compromising or limiting child’s potential

  • Review expectations of "normal" timelines 

  • Identify patterns of behavior that are not working, such as use of consequences

  • Identify range of behaviors which may reflect attempt to communicate, such as increased movement, subtle verbal or nonverbal cues, aggression, withdrawal, or inappropriate comments. 

4.   Remember there is no "typical" profile:

  • Help them identify their own strengths, skills and interests.

5.   Children are more alike than different:

  • Provide constant, appropriate praise 

  • All children need to be affirmed that they are wonderful

  • Facilitate home/school/community partnership.

©2020  Tisch.  

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