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Recent advances in understanding the genetics of reading and spelling disorder are reviewed and, based on theoretical models of reading development, different related phenotypes such as phonological and orthographic processing are examined. Family and twin studies show a moderate to high familiality and heritability. Segregation analyses suggest a major gene effect, with reduced penetrance in females, as well as a polygenic model. Linkage analyses and an association study have identified possible loci on chromosomes 6 and 15. These results suggest that reading and spelling disorder should be regarded as a complex disorder, strongly influenced by genetic factors. However, the role of environmental factors should also be considered as the clinical implications of the genetic findings in terms of aetiology and intervention still require far more exploration.
Many anxiety problems begin in childhood and are a common form of psychological problem that can be highly distressing and associated with a range of social impairments. Thus, skills for conceptualising, assessing, and treating childhood anxiety problems should be in the repertoire of all child mental health specialists. This paper reviews psychosocial treatments for the most common anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. Developmental models of anxiety disorders emphasise maximum risk in children with shy or inhibited temperaments who are exposed to high family anxiety and avoidance, and/or acutely distressing experiences. As children mature these temperamental and environmental experiences are internalised to low self-competence and high threat expectancy. Both individual or group-based interventions utilising cognitive-behavioural strategies to address multiple risk factors are highly efficacious and family involvement can contribute to positive outcomes. Guidelines for assessment and treatment are presented, and suggestions are made for effectively managing clinical process.
A group of 117 children who met criteria for Specific Language Impairment (SLI) at 7 years of age were reassessed at 11 years of age. The data gathered from both stages were used to identify predictors of good and poor outcome from earlier test assessments. Results of logistic regressions indicated that measures of narrative retelling skills and expressive syntax were the strongest predictors of overall prognosis. This finding persisted when a nonverbal measure was included as a predictor alongside language measures in the regression model. There was found to be a lack of independent predictive contribution of early measures of articulation to later overall prognosis. Demographic factors (maternal education and family income) were not differently distributed across outcome groups. The theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
Recent investigations have highlighted associations between maternal smoking in pregnancy and antisocial behaviour in offspring, and suggested the possibility of a causal effect. We used data from the 1970 British birth cohort study (BCS70) to examine these links in a large, population-based sample studied prospectively from birth to age 16. We found a strong dose-response relationship between the extent of pregnancy smoking and childhood-onset conduct problems, but no links with adolescent-onset antisocial behaviours. Effects on childhood-onset conduct problems were as marked for girls as for boys, and were robust to controls for a variety of social background factors and maternal characteristics. Controls for mothers' subsequent smoking history modified this picture, however, suggesting that the prime risks for early-onset conduct problems may be associated with persistent maternal smoking—or correlates of persistent smoking—rather than with pregnancy smoking per se.
In this study, we explored relations among negative life events, negative attributional style, avoidant coping, and level of fear in 99 children who had survived residential fires. Overall, negative life events, negative attributional style, and avoidant coping were found to be predictive of levels of fear. However, the relation between negative life events and fear was moderated by mother's level of education such that this prediction was obtained only for those children whose mothers were low in education level. Age, ethnicity, and sex did not moderate these relations. In addition, negative attributional style and avoidant coping were related to levels of fear in those children whose mothers were high in education levels but not those whose mothers were low in education level. Results are discussed within a stress and coping framework.
This study's aim was to estimate the prevalence and describe the clinical characteristics of Tourette syndrome (TS) in 13–14-year-old schoolchildren attending mainstream secondary schools. A three-stage ascertainment procedure was used to identify those who had TS. First, all 1012 Year 9 pupils were screened for tics using validated self-report questionnaires, which were completed by parents, teachers, and pupils. Data were available from at least one informant for 918 (90·7%) subjects. Tics were identified in 189 (18·7%) pupils. Second, families were contacted and a semistructured interview was carried out to determine whether they had TS. Finally, to ensure that the diagnosis of TS was correct, all those assessed as having TS were systematically assessed by an expert clinician in the field of TS.
Seven young people were identified as fulfilling the criteria for TS, giving a minimum prevalence rate amongst 13–14-year-olds of 0·76% (95% CI 0·31 to 1·57) and a more realistic estimate of 1·85% (95% CI 1·00 to 2·95). Behavioural problems, in particular hyperkinetic disorder, were frequently associated with the TS group. These findings lend further support to the contention that the prevalence of TS in the community has hitherto been underestimated, though the symptoms may be generally milder than cases of TS presenting to clinics. This study supports the need for vigilance for TS in school-age children in primary care and in educational settings, so that children with this potentially serious disorder can be identified and assessed and effective management packages can be formulated to address their needs, when necessary.
We examined executive functions using performance tasks in 126 boys aged 6 to 16 years, who attended public schools and therapeutic schools for children with emotional and behavioral problems. Children were further grouped based on the presence or absence of substantiated abuse histories. Based on their abuse histories and schools of origin, children were classified as Therapeutic, Abused (TA, N = 25), Therapeutic, Nonabused (TN, N = 52), and Public School (PS, N = 48). Controlling IQ and medication status, we compared children in the three groups on teacher ratings of behavior, on experimenter observations of behavior during testing, and on performance tasks challenging the capacities to inhibit an act in progress, and to passively avoid responses associated with adverse consequences. We examined mean group differences in symptoms, behaviors, and task performance, as well as differential age-dependent changes in these dimensions. Independent of abuse history, therapeutic school children demonstrated comparable levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms, and comparable levels of redirections to task during testing sessions, that were significantly higher than those of the public school children. Both groups of therapeutic school children also showed comparable overall performance on the capacities to inhibit an act in progress, and to passively avoid responses associated with adverse consequences that were poorer than the performance of children from the public school. Children with histories of substantiated abuse showed diminished improvement with increasing age in the capacity to passively avoid responses associated with adverse consequences when compared not only to the public school children, but also to the children from the therapeutic schools without histories of abuse. Our findings complement reports of behavioral observations of abused children, and reports associating child abuse with altered cognitive development in other areas of competence. They suggest that child abuse may negatively influence the expected developmental progression of competence in certain executive functions. This in turn could have implications for the nature and the persistence of certain forms of psychopathology associated with abuse and poor self-control. Given the cross-sectional nature of our data, however, longitudinal developmental studies of the relations between child abuse and executive functions are needed to elucidate the influence of abuse on the growth and development of such organizing principles of behavioral self-regulation.
Recent studies suggest that children with different etiologies of attention disorder also differ as to the types of errors they make on attention tasks. Because these errors are reflective of the core deficits underlying their attention problems, we sought to compare error patterns in children with different attention disorders. Studied were 144 children aged 7–12 years, 43 with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 35 with congenital hypothyroidism (CH), and 68 controls. Two variations of the continuous performance task (CPT) that differed in demands on inhibitory control and memory were used. One variation, the CPT:A-not-X task, required subjects to observe a continuous stream of letters shown at different rates on the computer screen and respond to all stimuli except “X”. The other variation, the CPT:AX task, required them to respond whenever a specified combination of letter such as “A” followed by “X” appeared on the screen. On the CPT:A-not-X task, children with ADHD differed from controls in commission errors, signifying difficulty with inhibitory control, whereas children with CH differed in perceptual sensitivity or signal detection. Although the CH and ADHD groups both performed more poorly than controls on the CPT:AX task, children with CH made more errors to the first stimulus item, suggesting a problem holding information in memory, whereas children with ADHD made more errors to the second item, suggesting impulsivity. These results therefore signify the utility of these tasks in identifying the different mechanisms underlying the specific attention deficits of different groups of children.
Childhood cruelty to animals may be a marker of poor prognosis amongst conduct disordered children. However, other than semistructured interviews with parents or children, there are no screening instruments for this behavior. The aim of this study was to develop such an instrument. In the first phase of the study, a parent-report questionnaire, Children's Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Animals (CABTA) was designed and piloted on 360 elementary school children, enabling community norms and a factor structure for the instrument to be derived. In the second phase, the questionnaire was completed by the parents of a small sample of children (N = 17) to establish its test–retest reliability. In the third phase of the study, the CABTA was completed by the parents of 19 children who had been diagnosed with either a Disruptive Behavioral Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and the results were compared with the outcome of a semistructured interview with parents regarding their child's behavior toward animals. The results of the various phases of the study indicated that the CABTA consists of two factors, Typical and Malicious Cruelty to animals, and is a reliable and valid tool for detecting childhood cruelty to animals. Possible use and adaptations of the CABTA as a screening instrument in clinical and community samples are discussed.
“Attention” is not a unitary brain process. Evidence from adult studies indicates that distinct neuroanatomical networks perform specific attentional operations and that these are vulnerable to selective damage. Accordingly, characterising attentional disorders requires the use of a variety of tasks that differentially challenge these systems. Here we describe a novel battery, the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch), comprising nine subtests adapted from the adult literature. The performance of 293 healthy children between the ages of 6 and 16 is described together with the relationships to IQ, existing measures of attention, and scholastic attainment. This large normative sample also allows us to test the fit of the adult model of functionally separable attention systems to the observed patterns of variance in children's performance. A Structural Equation Modelling approach supports this view. A three-factor model of sustained and selective attention and higher-level “executive” control formed a good fit to the data, even in the youngest children. A single factor model was rejected.
There are behavioural and anatomical grounds to believe that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is particularly associated with poor self-sustained attention and behavioural control. The TEA-Ch performance of 24 boys diagnosed with ADD presented here is consistent with this view. When performance levels on WISC-III subtests were taken into account, specific deficits in sustained attention were apparent while selective attention performance was within the normal range.
Twenty-eight children with autism and 33 MLD children were given two tasks tapping social understanding and a control task tapping probability understanding. For each task there was a measure of eye gaze (where children looked when anticipating the return of a story character or an object) and a verbal measure (a direct question). We found that eye gaze was better than verbal performance at differentiating children with autism from children with MLD. Children with autism did not look to the correct location in anticipation of the story character's return in the social tasks, but they did look to the correct location in the nonsocial probability task. We also found that within the autistic group, children who looked least to the correct location were rated as having the most severe autistic characteristics. Further, we found that whereas verbal performance correlated with general language ability in the autistic group, eye gaze did not. We argue that: (a) eye gaze probably taps unconscious but core insights into social behavior and as such is better than verbal measures at differentiating children with autism from mentally handicapped controls, (b) eye gaze taps either spontaneous processes of simulation or rudimentary pattern recognition, both of which are less based in language, and (c) the social understanding of children with autism is probably based mostly on verbally mediated theories whereas control children also possess more spontaneous insights indexed by eye gaze.
A battery of tests of auditory and visual memory was used to investigate memory function in 52 high-functioning adolescents and young adults with autism and 40 group-matched normal controls. It was hypothesized that memory dysfunction is present in autism but is not modality specific and is produced by poor utilization of organizing strategies. It was therefore hypothesized that memory impairment in autism would become more prominent as task complexity was increased. The participants with autism performed as well as controls on short-term memory and paired-associate learning tasks, but performed significantly less well than controls on a list learning task. They also performed significantly more poorly on immediate and delayed recall of a story and of a complex geometric figure. On a maze learning task, their performance became progressively worse relative to controls as the complexity of the maze increased. On a series of span tasks, they did not differ from controls on letter span, but did significantly worse on word span and sentences of increasing complexity. These findings indicate a lack of modality specificity and a failure to initiate organizing strategies as evidenced by inefficiency in new learning, poor utilization of contextual cues in story and complex pattern recall, and greater impairment with increasing complexity of the material.