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Better indicators are needed for identifying children with early signs of developmental psychopathology.
To identify measures of autonomic nervous system reactivity that discriminate children with internalising and externalising behavioural symptoms.
A cross-sectional study of 122 children aged 6–7 years examined sympathetic and parasympathetic reactivity to standardised field-laboratory stressors as predictors of parent— and teacher-reported mental health symptoms.
Measures of autonomic reactivity discriminated between children with internalising behaviour problems, externalising behaviour problems and neither. Internalisers showed high reactivity relative to low-symptom children, principally in the parasympathetic branch, while externalisers showed low reactivity, in both autonomic branches.
School-age children with mental health symptoms showed a pattern of autonomic dimorphism in their reactivity to standardised challenges. This observation may be of use in early identification of children with presyndromal psychopathology.
Little is known about the influence on child mental health symptoms of the timing of initial exposure to maternal major depression or whether the timing is associated with ‘pure’ or co-occurring internalising and externalising symptoms.
To address these issues, while also taking account of child gender and family socio-economic status.
In a prospective community-based study, 421 kindergarten teachers rated children's symptoms. Previous assessments of maternal major depression indicated whether children were first exposed during infancy, in the toddler/pre-school period, or never.
Exposure during infancy was associated with high internalising symptoms, especially when co-occurring with high externalising symptoms. Initial exposure in the toddler/pre-school years increased the risk of ‘pure’ externalising symptoms among girls.
The association of child mental health symptoms with the timing of initial exposure to maternal depression highlights the need for effective prevention and intervention strategies addressed to the developmental issues of each period.
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