What is AQUA at 6?

aquaat6 logoThe children in the AQUA study turned six during 2018 and 2019, and we followed their development as they began their journey through school. This stage of the study is called the AQUA Early School Years Follow-up, or AQUA at 6 for short.

We know that many aspects of the mother's pregnancy, the child's early health and their family environment influence a child's learning and behaviour, especially in the early years. We did not find any developmental problems at age 2 years related to alcohol use in pregnancy in the many children we assessed. However, early development is not always a good predictor of later development. It was critical to assess this unique group of children again once they had started school.

The commencement of school is a time when children develop complex social, academic, and physical abilities. For example, they learn to fit in with their peers and a classroom routine, and literacy and numeracy skills mature.

The purpose of AQUA at 6 was to gather detailed information on 6-8-year-old children about how they were coping with these new demands on their development. We again looked at whether occasional, low or moderate alcohol consumption in pregnancy is associated with any problems in the health and development of young children. For this, the children did an assessment with a psychologist, who looked at the child's thinking, reactions, learning, early academic achievement, communication and body movement.

We were also interested in facial development and 482 children had a 3D photograph taken of their face and head. 146 children had a brain MRI to investigate possible brain characteristics.

427 children provided a cheek swab. Cheek swabs collect some of the loose cheek cells from inside the mouth and are an easy way to get DNA for testing. We will use this DNA to study epigenetics. Epigenetics is a process that controls if genes are activated or switched off. This is important in growth and development. New research shows that epigenetics is an important reason alcohol influences children's development differently. 

We also linked information from developmental assessments to the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) for 529 children who attended their Foundation year (Prep) in 2018. The AEDC is a teacher-rated population measure of early child development and allows for real-life comparison to assessments done in the research environment. Findings will help to understand if potential developmental problems associated with low-to-moderate alcohol exposure are detectable using standard population-level measures, such as those in the early school environment.