Deficiencies In Development Of Cocaine Children Essay

, Research Paper

It has been estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that every year 40,000 babies are born to mothers who have used cocaine during their pregnancy. Unfortunately, the outcome is unfair for these children, because the mothers do not take into consideration that they are responsible for another person s life. These children have various levels of deficiencies in the learning process and in the way that they behave. The levels of deficiencies in children vary in accordance with the mother s consumption of cocaine. Thereby not only are there defects at birth, but also later on in the developmental years. Women who use cocaine while pregnant cause a great damage to their children during the developmental years; especially in the aspects of cognitive motor and social/ behavioral deficiencies.

Cognitive deficiencies are those that deal with an individual s thinking and reasoning process. These abilities are seen in the beginning school years, not at birth, but are the subtle characteristics that only through the school environment can be recognized. In a class environment, the deficiencies of a cocaine child are often confused with those of a disruptive child. The underlying truth is: teachers are not able to cope with them on an individual basis and give them more attention.

An initial sign that some children demonstrate is a lack of concentration on virtually every task. Excessive disorganization beyond that of regular children along with being more than just the class nuisance can be characteristics of cocaine-exposed children. While most children are able to stay on task, these children will be easily deterred if given the opportunity. These children tend to exhibit a lack of exploration of the environment which results in less pretend play (Cates, 68). In a study done by Mayes, when given a box of toys, for example they [spend] less time exploring the new toys than [do] the control children (Vogel, 39). Another pending issue is that cocaine-exposed children do as well as regular children in settings with no distractions, such as a one-on-one quiet room session. The truth is that in real life there are a plethora of distractions. A study conducted at Wayne State University, in Detroit found that teachers rated 27 cocaine-exposed 6-year-olds as having significantly more trouble paying attention than 75 non-exposed children (the teachers did not know who was who) (Begley, 1997, 63). Imitative play is a way of learning for toddlers, which drug-exposed children are less likely to demonstrate. As for these children, incentives do not work. Normal children are satisfied with receiving a lollipop for reciting the ABC s correctly. Cocaine-exposed children do not perceive this as a reward.

An area in the cognitive division is language development. The language barrier that most children must overcome is minimal in comparison to drug-exposed children. Children exposed in-utero to drugs, have difficulty following verbally instructed directions. They are more non-compliant [needing] more adult assistance in the form of coaxing or re-direction to maintain their attention to the specific task (Beckwith, 300). In a specific case study regarding drug exposed children, such as Trevor, a 5-year-old child that has problems dealing with simple tasks when it comes to receptive language. Instead of Trevor using verbal skills to communicate, he uses gestures and grunts to express himself. He is able to differentiate pictures of his immediate family, but only when they are given names (Cates, 66). Some children may have better success with receptive language (what is understood) receptive language may be superior to expressive language development In pre-school, these children experiences prolonged difficulty in identifying pictures and using expressive language (Cates, 67).

There are motor development deficiencies that cocaine-exposed children are born with. These motor deficiencies can impair their ability to control muscle movements and can hinder the speed of their reactions. These children tend to have problems sitting still. They are constantly moving around and have high energy levels. Due to this motor deficiency these children have trouble taking-test. Most of the children of addicted mothers [require] four to seven very short sessions to complete testing this was a stark contrast to comparison-group children able to complete the test in two or three twenty minute sessions (Hawley, 377).

Another problem with in utero drug-exposed children is that they continuously experience muscle spasms when grabbing objects. This [limits their] ability to independently accomplish directed activities such as placing wood pegs into specific holes (Cates, 66). In certain studies done by researchers there has been a correlation between cocaine-exposed children having underdeveloped muscle tone and poor reflexes depending on the amount of drug intake by the mother while pregnant (Cates, 67). Consequently, they also exhibit signs of below average toddler development when it comes to the use of fine motor skills, such as cutting and pasting. This disadvantage can be distressing for the children who would like to join sports activities, as they grow older. Cocaine-exposed children have poor eye and hand coordination handicaps. In research, it has been demonstrated that visual-perceptual and fine motor problems persist as these children mature (Cates, 66). These incidents can be socially devastating if a drug-exposed child wants to be on a sports team, but is not capable of performing to the team or the coach s expectations. All in all, the gross motor or fine motor deficits related to in utero drug exposure may cause problems with manipulating toys, resulting in frustration and making it more difficult to engage in peer play (Beckwith, 289).

Lastly, children exposed in utero to drugs have severe deficiencies in their social/behavioral development. In this stage of development, children are learning to interact with one another, which is very valuable later on in life. However, cocaine-exposed children tend to be idiosyncratic when dealing with social/behavioral factors in their environment. For example, these children usually are more aggressive, [have] more trouble paying attention and staying [focused] and [are] more likely to be implusive anxious and depressed (Vogel, 38). Drug-exposed children cannot seem to rationalize how to conduct themselves correctly in situations. These children, for instance, are unpredictable and many times irritate teachers to the point where they feel that removing the child from the class is the only solution. They always seem to be testing the limits of [others] (Cates, 68).

An example, which illustrates this point, is when a cocaine-exposed child literally gets in another classmate s face and says, look at this, look at this! The child does this action deliberately when other classmates are pre-occupied with tasks of their own. This particular social behavior is intolerable by both the teacher, and classmates. This behavior is also considered intolerable in a civilized social environment, although to these affected children, it is normal.

The prenatally drug-exposed children s insensitivity may further suggest that they have a limited repertoire of behaviors from which to choose when engaging in play with a peer, thereby making them appear insensitive and inexperienced when attempting to be sociable with a peer (Beckwith, 300)

On the average, most children have occasional temper tantrums. On the other hand, cocaine children have more than the ordinary number of tantrums in everyday settings. Their temper tantrums show a lack of control and/or instability in themselves. A giggle becomes a scream or a response to a question becomes an outburst (Cates, 67). These children not only have problems coping with their behavioral outbursts, but also with the social changes in daily routines. The reason behind this is that they need a consistent pattern otherwise they lose their focus (which is shorter that the average child). Also, they prefer to stay with familiar faces because it gives a sense of stability and security. Another peculiar behavioral action of these children is that even though they feel at ease with familiar faces, they are indeed fearless of strangers. Younger children, particularly toddlers, lack the wariness toward strangers that their age typically exhibit. They readily sought comfort from unfamiliar researchers, even when their mothers or familiar teachers were present (Hawley, 377). Socially, they demonstrate aggressive behaviors regarding group activities. Due to their emotional instability they are like a seesaw constantly shifting from one emotion to another. This inconsistent behavior is not a good social trait. Most of the time cocaine-exposed children have a tendency to wander without cause in particular areas (i.e. playgrounds, and classrooms). Certain tasks, such as stacking blocks elude the drug-exposed children. It just escapes their mental grasps. The play of prenatally exposed children [tends] to be disorganized and characterized by scattering, battering, picking up and putting down the toys rather than sustained combining of all toys, fantasy-play or curious (Hawley, 366).

Drug exposure is a leading element in the breakdown of a child s developmental progress. However, there are so many adversities in the complexity of a drug-exposed child that it is difficult to pinpoint the leading cause of where his/her deficits come from. Undoubtedly, it has a large part to do with the quantity of cocaine that the mother used, the place where the child is brought up, and how much attention he/she receives in school. In other words,

It is not only the biological effects that occur to the fetus, but the continuing adversities in experience, growing up in poverty, living in a drug-centered environment, or experiencing inadequate nurturing, loss, and/or changes in the primary adult caregiver, that place most of these children in double jeopardy (Beckwith, 301).

The developmental setbacks in cocaine-exposed children are primarily seen in that of the cognitive aspect. The cognitive aspect deals with a variety of thinking and reasoning skills. These cognitive deficiencies are most evident during their development years. Whereas, there are striking differences between normal children and drug-exposed children as far as their motor deficiencies are concerned. They are more striking because they deal with the physical responses of a child (i.e. muscles and their reflexes). Undoubtedly, their social/behavioral deficiencies will have the greatest impact on their lives, because it is the foundation of what determines how their lives will end up socially as adults.


Beckwith, Leila et al. (1995). Attentional and Social Functioning of Pre-school Age Children Exposed to PCP and Cocaine in Utero. In Mothers, Babies, and Cocaine: The Role of Toxins in Development (pp. 287-301). New Jersey: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.

Begley, Sharon (1997, September 29). Hope for snow babies: a mother s cocaine use mayu not doom her child after all. Newsweek, 130, 62-63

Cates, Dennis; Kinnison, Lloyd; & Sluder, Linda. (1996, Winter), Prenatal drug exposure: meeting the challenge. Childhood Education, 73, 66-69.

Hawley, Theresa Lawton et. al. (1995, July). Children of Addicted Mothers: Effects of the Crack Epidemic on the Caregiving Environment and the Development of Pre-schoolers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 65, 364-377

Vogel, Gretchen. (1997, October 3). Cocaine wreaks subtle damage on developing brains. Science, 278, 38-39.



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