Children exposed to cocaine before birth show subtle but discernible differences in their ability to plan and problem-solve once they reach school age, University of Florida researchers report.
Still, most fare far better in the first few years after birth than many experts once predicted, contradicting the notion that as a rule, cocaine-exposed infants would be born with devastating birth defects or miss major developmental milestones. "I think the early information we had was that these children might be irreversibly damaged - that they would potentially have lots of problems in school, that they might have lots of behavior problems, that they might have problems thinking and learning," said UF neonatologist Marylou Behnke, M.D.
Instead, UF researchers write in the April online issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, prenatal cocaine exposure is linked to smaller head circumference at birth and to less optimal home environments, which in turn have direct yet mild effects on developmental outcome at 3 years of age. Those effects persist at ages 5 and 7, once more demands are placed on the children during the formal school years, according to related findings the researchers presented at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.
Melanie Ross | EurekAlert!
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