Reading Impairment in Adolescents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Nadine M. Lindinger, Sandra W. Jacobson, Landi Davidson, Simone Conradie, Neil C. Dodge, Christopher D. Molteno, Ernesta M. Meintjes, Nadine Gaab & Joseph L. Jacobson (2022) Reading Impairment in Adolescents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Scientific Studies of Reading, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2022.2054717



To date, research on effects of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) has focused on a broad range of cognitive impairments, but relatively few studies have examined effects of PAE on development of reading skills. Although PAE has been linked to poorer reading comprehension, it remains unclear whether this impairment is attributable to deficits in phonological processing, word reading, oral language skills, and/or executive functioning.


A comprehensive reading battery was administered to 10 adolescents with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); 16 with partial FAS; 30 nonsyndromal heavily exposed; 49 controls.


PAE was related to poorer reading comprehension but not to single-word reading or phonological processing, suggesting that the mechanics of reading are intact in adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at this age. PAE-related impairment in reading comprehension was mediated, in part, by deficits in mastery of oral language skills, including vocabulary, language structure, and verbal fluency.


These results are consistent with research showing that reading comprehension in adolescence relies increasingly on linguistic comprehension abilities, especially once word reading becomes automatic and text complexity increases. Our findings suggest that reading-impaired adolescents with PAE will benefit from intervention programs targeting vocabulary knowledge, language structure, verbal fluency, and reading comprehension skills.

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