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Am J Psychiatry. 2009 Aug;166(8):900-8. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.08121770. Epub 2009 Jul 1.

Differentiating early-onset persistent versus childhood-limited conduct problem youth.

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  • 1Center for Prevention of Youth Behavior Problems, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0348, USA.



Among young children who demonstrate high levels of conduct problems, less than 50% will continue to exhibit these problems into adolescence. Such developmental heterogeneity presents a serious challenge for intervention and diagnostic screening in early childhood. The purpose of the present study was to inform diagnostic screening and preventive intervention efforts by identifying youths whose conduct problems persist. The authors examined 1) the extent to which early-onset persistent versus childhood-limited trajectories can be identified from repeated assessments of childhood and early-adolescent conduct problems and 2) how prenatal and early postnatal risks differentiate these two groups.


To identify heterogeneity in early-onset conduct problems, the authors used data from a large longitudinal population-based cohort of children followed from the prenatal period to age 13. Predictive risk factors examined were prenatal and postnatal measures of maternal distress (anxiety, depression), emotional and practical support, and family and child characteristics (from birth to 4 years of age).


Findings revealed a distinction between early-onset persistent versus childhood-limited conduct problems in youths. Robust predictors of the early-onset persistent trajectory were maternal anxiety during pregnancy (32 weeks gestation), partner cruelty to the mother (from age 0 to 4 years), harsh parenting, and higher levels of child undercontrolled temperament. Sex differences in these risks were not identified.


Interventions aiming to reduce childhood conduct problems should address prenatal risks in mothers and early postnatal risks in both mothers and their young children.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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