Questioning cognitive heterogeneity and intellectual functioning in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders from the Wechsler intelligence scale for children

Introduction: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are characterized by a variety of multiple cognitive and behavioral impairments, with intellectual, attentional, and executive impairments
being the most commonly reported. In populations with multiple neurodevelopmental disorders, the Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ) may not be a proper measure of intellectual abilities, rarely interpreted in FASD clinical practice because the heterogeneity of the cognitive profile is deemed too strong. We propose a quantitative characterization of this heterogeneity, of the strengths and weaknesses profile, and a differential analysis between global cognitive (FSIQ) and elementary reasoning abilities in a large retrospective monocentric FASD sample.

Methods: Using clinical and cognitive data (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) from 107 children with FASD, we characterized subject heterogeneity (variance and scatter of scaled/composite scores), searched for strengths and weaknesses, and specified intellectual functioning in terms of FSIQ and elementary reasoning (General Abilities Index, Highest Reasoning Scaled Score), in comparison with standardization norms and a Monte-Carlo simulated sample from normalization data.

Results: Performance of children with FASD was lower on all subtests, with a significant weakness in working memory and processing speed. We found no increase in the variance and scatter of the scores, but a discordance between the assessment of global cognitive functioning (28% borderline, 23% deficient) and that of global and elementary reasoning abilities (23–9% borderline, 15–14% deficient).

Conclusion: Our results question the notion of WISC profile heterogeneity in FASD and point to working memory and processing speed over-impairment, with global repercussions but most often preserved elementary reasoning abilities.

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