Conditioning tests may help doctors diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome

By Staff Writer

Alcoholics who fail to seek substance abuse treatment and continue to drink during pregnancy risk passing along a range of birth defects to their children. While these impairments can seriously hinder the child’s ability to learn, doctors often have a difficult time diagnosing them. However, the findings of a new study suggest that eyeblink conditioning may help doctors identify children with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Despite the fact the condition causes serious intellectual impairments, these disabilities are often not apparent until later in childhood. This may lead to misdiagnosis, which wastes valuable time in the treatment process.

In an effort to address this problem, researchers from the Wayne State School of Medicine assessed the ability of a group of children to be conditioned. Researchers played a noise then gave the children a puff of air in the eye.

Under normal circumstances, children would become conditioned to the sound and blink whenever they heard it. However, researchers found that children who were exposed to high levels of alcohol during pregnancy did not become conditioned to the noise.

The research team believes that the findings could provide doctors with a tool to make diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome easier.