Characteristics of Children with Prenatal Drug Exposure Being Served in Preschool Special Education Programs in New York City

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This study examined the behavioral characteristics of 49 children in preschool special education programs in New York City. Twenty-nine of these children had been prenatally exposed to drugs, whereas 20 had no record of such exposure. The study employed three methods of data collection: participant observation, time sampling, and interviews with teaching staff. The observations and interviews focused on seven behavioral categories frequently referred to in literature on young children with prenatal drug exposure: mood, attachment (relationships), aggression, attention, movement (activity) level, organization and level of play, and language usage. The study found that the two groups differed in the hypothesized direction on total number of stereotypic characteristics. The drug-exposed group also displayed more anger, aggression, and unoccupied behavior. The most striking finding was the great variability within the drug-exposed group, with about half that sample bearing little or no resemblance to the stereotypic image and about one quarter strongly resembling it. This study was not designed to directly address the effects of prenatal drug exposure per se; much more information and control over the conditions of early care would have been necessary for that purpose. It did show that a subgroup within this population exhibits behavioral characteristics presenting a serious challenge that needs to be addressed by educators.



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