A dreaded yet common disorder of infants is the foetal alcohol syndrome caused due to consumption of alcohol by pregnant ladies.
Canadian researchers found a technique for accurately diagnosing Foetal Alcohol Syndrome based on the pattern of eye-movement, Queen's University reported on Nov. 11, 2005.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), often caused by pregnant women drinking alcohol, is a condition characterized by abnormal facial features, growth retardation, and central nervous disorders.
Children with FAS may have physical disabilities and difficulties with learning, memory, attention, problem solving, and social/behavioural disorders. People with FAS are at risk for psychiatric abnormalities, criminal behaviour, unemployment, and incomplete education.
Dr. James Reynolds and colleagues of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and the Centre for Neuroscience Studies conducted an eye-tracking test in 25 girls and boys aged eight to 12 with or without FAS. The subjects were asked to concentrate on a light in the centre of a screen while a second light was moving across the screen.
Eye-tracking or eye-movement has often been employed to evaluate neurological or brain damage. Children with FAS or brain damage would have difficulty focusing on the fixed light when the second light was moving. But the researchers found a unique response patterns in those with FAS.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome has previously been diagnosed accessing physical characteristics, IQ, and behavioural and learning difficulties.
Some disorders are similar to FAS in terms of their symptoms such as leaning difficulties and emotional problems. This would make it difficult to diagnose FAS. For example, FAS may be confused with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The new diagnostic tool can help detect the disorder early so that the affected children may receive specialized therapy and care they need.
"Having a set of tests that can be used as diagnostic tools for foetal alcohol syndrome and all of the other behavioural disorders classified under the broader term foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is tremendously valuable," said Reynolds. "Now we can begin to identify specific deficits in these children."
People with FAS may have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, and/or hearing, which often lead to academic incompetence and social problems. The disorder affects every aspect of an individual's life and the lives of his or her family.
The incidence of FAS in the U.S. is estimated at 0.2 to 1.5 per 1,000 live births, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In Canada, FAS affects about one in every 100 children.
Source: Canadian Institutes of Health Research.