We are pleased to announce the recipient of the 2023 Dr. Sterling Clarren FASD Research Award is Danielle Johnston for her research on visual-motor integration, visual perception and motor coordination assessments in children with FASD.
CanFASD presents the Dr. Sterling Clarren FASD Research Award annually to a student or early career researcher who has made a significant contribution to the field of FASD. The award was named in honour of Dr. Sterling Clarren – CanFASD’s founding CEO and Scientific Director and a pioneer in FASD research – to celebrate his contributions to the field. This award recognizes research that integrates policy, practice, and evidence together to improve the lives of individuals with FASD, their families, and their communities.
Visual-Motor Integration, Visual Perception and Motor Coordination and FASD
Individuals with FASD often experience challenges with visual-motor integration – the degree of relationship between what we see (visual perception) and our small muscle movements (fine motor coordination). This all falls under the motor domain in FASD assessment.
Clinicians currently use the Beery Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration, 6th edition(Beery-6) to assess motor skills in people with FASD as part of the diagnostic process. The Beery-6 includes 3 tests:
- One for visual-motor integration (Beery-VMI);
- One for fine motor coordination (Beery-MC); and
- One for visual perception (Beery-VP)
The Beery-6 manual considers the Beery-MC and Beery-VP to be supplementary tests, and they may not be done during the FASD assessment process.
A Description of the Research
However, researchers have found that one of the supplementary tests may be better at identifying severe motor coordination deficits in children with FASD compared to the visual-motor integration portion. This is part of what Danielle was researching.
Danielle looked at data from children aged 6 to 17 assessed for FASD with confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure who received all three tests (Beery-VMI, Beery-MC, and Beery-VP). She compared the results and found significant differences in assessment results between the three tests in individuals with FASD.
A deeper dive into the findings
The Beery-VMI test is used as the primary assessment tool when looking at motor function because, in the general population, this assessment score is usually the lowest of the three. However, Danielle’s research found this wasn’t the case in children with FASD. Unlike the general population, children with FASD scores were highest on visual perception assessments and lowest on motor coordination, with visual motor integration sitting in the middle.
Her research found that in 20% of the sample, the motor coordination (Beery-MC) score was lower than the visual motor-integration score (Beery-VMI). This means that if clinicians had only used the primary assessment tool (Beery-VMI) to assess the motor domain, 20% of the sample would have been determined to have abilities in the “average range”. .
These results could have possibly affected diagnosis in 20% of individuals assessed for FASD. These individuals also wouldn’t have received recommendations, supports, and strategies to overcome challenges with motor coordination.
Choosing the right assessment tools
Assessing impairment in the motor domain is essential for FASD diagnosis. However, Danielle’s research has shown that the choice of tests clinicians use during the assessment process can impact both the diagnosis and supports someone receives. Not doing supplementary assessments on fine motor coordination may result in clinicians missing impairments, which could impact the diagnosis and the supports that are recommended.
Join us at our next webinar to meet Danielle and hear more about her work.
This research is currently unpublished.