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School Performance is Poor in Children Diagnosed With Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome at Birth

Children diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), caused by drug exposure in the womb, tested poorly in school and showed progressively deteriorating performance by grade seven, according to an Australian study to be published in the February 2017 issue of Pediatrics. The study, “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and High School Performance,” to be published online Jan. 16, analyzed the health and academic data of children born in New South Wales, Australia, between 2000 and 2006, including 2,234 children born with NAS. Researchers analyzed the results of a standardized, compulsory curriculum-based test taken by the children diagnosed with NAS at birth, in grades three, five and seven, and compared it with a control group of 4,440 other children matched for gestation, socio-economic status and gender. Their test results were also compared with those of 598,265 other New South Wales children. The children diagnosed with NAS at birth had significantly lower scores than both groups in every grade in all five test domains, including reading or literacy skills, one of the most important predictors of school success. By grade seven – or age 12 -- about 44 percent of children with NAS had failed to meet test standards in at least one domain of testing and also had test scores lower than other children in grade 5, who were on average, 2 years younger. The authors found that parental education may decrease the risk of failure, and conclude that families of children diagnosed with NAS at birth should be identified early and provided with sufficient support to decrease the risk of poor school performance both on the child and on society.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.

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