Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Investigation of the Heterogeneity of Disruptive Behaviour in Elementary-Age Children

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Investigation of the Heterogeneity of Disruptive Behaviour in Elementary-Age Children

Article excerpt


We evaluated parent and teacher ratings of a large sample (N = 1579) of elementary-school children in Canada to determine how different conceptualizations of disruptive behaviour are co-related and related to other measures of functioning. Parent and teacher ratings were consistent, and suggested three separate but correlated aspects of disruptive behaviour in children: (1) reactive/oppositional behaviour, (2) proactive/callous behaviour; and (3) inattention-impulsive-overactive behaviour. These were uniquely and significantly related to DSM-IV diagnostic scores and to other measure of impairment, indicating that they measure distinct aspects of disruptive behaviour in children.


Nous avons evalue les evaluations des parents et enseignants d'un grand echantillon (N = 1579) d'enfants canadiens a l'ecole elementaire afin de determiner comment differentes conceptualisations d'un comportement perturbateur sont interreliees et reliees a d'autres mesures du fonctionnement. L'appreciation des parents et des enseignants etait uniforme et suggerait trois aspects distincts mais corelies de comportement perturbateur chez l'enfant : 1) comportement reactif/oppositionnel, 2) comportement proactif/sans pitie et 3) comportement d'inattention-impulsif-hyperactif. Ces comportements se rapportaient de facon unique et significative aux scores de diagnostic DSM-IV et a d'autres mesures de deficience, indiquant qu'ils mesurent des aspects distincts du comportement perturbateur chez l'enfant.

Disruptive behaviour is a prevalent societal problem, affecting about 5% to 10% of elementary-school children (e.g., Offord, Boyle, Fleming, Blum, & Grant, 1989). Children with disruptive behaviour problems tend to have fewer friends, struggle academically, and have impaired family relationships (Connor, 2002). Disruptive children also negatively affect others in their environment as peer targets of disruptive children's actions experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and school failure (Perry, Kusel, & Perry, 1988). The financial costs also are considerable since disruptive behaviour is one of the most common reasons for referrals to pediatric health clinics (R. T. Brown et al., 2001) and to special education services in schools (Jerome, Gordon, & Hustler, 1994).

Unfortunately, disruptive behaviour in children is often not a temporary condition that children outgrow. Instead, disruptive behaviour shows considerable stability over the lifespan (Loeber, 1982; Loeber & Dishion, 1983) and has much forensic relevance. A number of studies have found that 50% to 70% of children who exhibit serious disruptive behaviour in childhood and adolescence are arrested in adulthood (Loeber, 1990), with about 40% of children with disruptive behaviour problems developing antisocial personality disorder as adults (Lahey & Loeber, 1997). In fact, there is growing evidence that persistent disruptive behaviour in childhood is a developmental precursor to child and adolescent delinquency, which is in turn a developmental precursor to serious, violent, and chronic antisocial behaviour in late adolescence and adulthood (Loeber & Farrington, 2001). These and other data argue that gaining a greater understanding of disruptive behaviour in childhood should be an important focus for forensic psychology.

Researchers, clinicians, legal professionals, and others who work with disruptive children are likely to agree that the general category "disruptive child behaviour" is overly broad. To reduce this heterogeneity, disruptive behaviour is often distinguished into specific subtypes. One commonly used subtype is the distinction between inattentive-impulsive-overactive (IO) behaviours and oppositional-defiant (OD) behaviours. Although the validity of this distinction was at one time questioned, it is now well established that they constitute separate but related aspects of disruptive behaviour (Hinshaw, 1987), and that different combinations of these two types of disruptive behaviour are related to different areas of impairment (Waschbusch, 2002). …

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