Key Findings: Children Born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) May Have Educational Disabilities

Crying newborn in a white blanket

A study from the Tennessee Department of Health, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and March of Dimes, found that children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) were more likely to have a developmental delay or speech or language impairment in early childhood compared to children born without NAS. NAS is a serious withdrawal syndrome that can occur in newborns after exposure to opioids during pregnancy.

More research is needed to help us better understand the effects of exposure to non-essential opioids during pregnancy on the baby’s health, education, and needs for social services as they grow. Ongoing monitoring of developmental milestones is an important part of ensuring the healthy development of all children.  Read the scientific summaryexternal icon of the study.

Main Findings

  • In this study, children born with NAS were more likely than children without NAS to:
    • Be evaluated for an educational disability
    • Be diagnosed with developmental delay or speech or language impairment
    • Receive classroom support or speech therapy.
  • These findings suggest that children born with NAS could have learning challenges in childhood and beyond.
  • These findings support the need for more studies to better understand the longer-term effects for children born with NAS.

About this Study

  • This is the first study to look at the longer-term educational outcomes among children born with NAS in the United States.
  • Researchers used Tennessee Medicaid data to identify children born with NAS in Tennessee between 2008 and 2011.
  • Researchers linked birth certificate data of children born with NAS and children born without NAS to Tennessee Department of Education data to track special education service use during early childhood (3-8 years of age).
  • Researchers were not able to control for all factors that may increase a child’s risk for developmental delay or speech or language impairment.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) launched four pilot projects to help us better understand NAS, including how to track it, the short- and long-term effects of NAS, and health services used by children born with NAS.

More Information


Fill MA, Miller AM, Wilkinson R, Warren MD, Dunn JR, Schaffner W, and Jones TF. Educational Disabilities Among Children Born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Pediatrics. 2018. [epub ahead of print]

Page last reviewed: March 10, 2021