Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is diagnosed based on a set of physical anomalies at birth. These include altered facial formation and development issues. These physical characteristics are not present in all children affected by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. A milder form of FAS is Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), but no known diagnosis criteria has been established. According to a research study on children in Cape Town, South Africa, children who are exposed to heavy amounts of alcohol during pregnancy have trouble learning from classic eyeblink conditioning.
Researchers tested 63 children in Cape Town with two forms of eyeblink conditioning. The conditioning involved a tone and puff of air combined in different forms. The tone was supposed to alert the children that the puff was coming. Children who were exposed to alcohol in fetal stages took longer than normal to learn the connection between the tone and the puff. This tells researchers that the learning areas of the brain may be affected by alcohol on some level even if the physical anomalies associated with FAS are not present.

This step in diagnosis is exciting for researchers, but there is much more to study. Claire Coles, former professor at Emory University School of Medicine, states, “This kind of learning or conditioning is only one aspect of memory. The goal of mapping out all of the learning and memory deficits that are found as a result of alcohol exposure would be of major importance scientifically and could also be the basis for the design of effective interventions."

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Source: Sandra Jacobson, et al. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. February 2011 Edition.