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Cocaine Babies Get Bad Rap

Children exposed to drug before birth subject to stereotyping

FRIDAY, Oct. 11, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Children exposed to cocaine before birth may be unfairly subjected to stereotyping.

So says a study in the October issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

"Adults may interpret normal infant or child behavior as abnormal if adults have preconceived negative beliefs about the consequences of parental drug exposure," says study author Ruth Rose-Jacobs, of the Boston University School of Medicine.

The study found that trained research assistants who were unaware of a child's background could not tell the difference between a 4-year-old child exposed to cocaine before birth and a child who wasn't exposed to the drug.

The study included 163 children who were given standardized cognitive and behavioral tests by a group of assessors. The assessors weren't told about the children's cocaine exposure or developmental history.

The results showed there were no statistically significant differences on the behavioral and developmental tests between the children. However, the assessors labeled 111 of the children as having been subjected to prenatal cocaine exposure, even though only 87 of the children had been exposed to cocaine.

Children who had significantly lower scores on all the assessment tests were assumed by the assessors to have been exposed to cocaine, the study says.

"In other words, the assessors were not only unable to correctly identify which children had been exposed in-utero to cocaine, they were also more likely to presume exposure if a child displayed cognitive and behavioral problems during testing," Rose-Jacobs says.

"These results suggest that clinicians and educators should distrust the perception that at the preschool age, there are subtle clues that allow them to 'just know' who is cocaine-exposed," she says.

More information

A Case Western University study examines the effects of cocaine on babies.

SOURCE: Health Behavior News Service, Oct. 9, 2002
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