Alcohol exposure during pregnancy has been associated with altered brain development and facial dysmorphology. While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not specifically related to distinct facial phenotypes, recent studies have suggested certain facial characteristics such as increased facial masculinity and asymmetry may be associated with ASD and its clinical presentations. In the present study, we conducted a preliminary investigation to examine facial morphology in autistic children with (n = 37; mean age = 8.21 years, SD = 2.72) and without (n = 100; mean age = 8.37 years, SD = 2.47) prenatal alcohol exposure. Using three-dimensional facial scans and principal component analysis, we identified a facial shape associated with prenatal alcohol exposure in autistic children. However, variations in the alcohol-related facial shape were generally not associated with behavioural and cognitive outcomes. These findings suggest that while early exposure to alcohol may influence the development of facial structures, it does not appear to be associated with ASD phenotypic variability. Importantly, although these findings do not implicate a role for prenatal alcohol exposure in the etiology of ASD, further research is warranted to investigate the link between prenatal alcohol exposure and facial morphology differences among neurodevelopmental conditions.
Tan, D. W., Foo, Y. Z., Downs, J., Finlay-Jones, A., Leonard, H., Licari, M. K., Mullan, N., Symons, M., Varcin, K. J., Whitehouse, A. J. O., & Alvares, G. A. (2020). A preliminary investigation of the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on facial morphology in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Alcohol, 86, 75-80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcohol.2020.03.010