Developmental transitions in presentations of externalizing problems among boys and girls at risk for child maltreatment

Dev Psychopathol. 2015 Feb;27(1):205-19. doi: 10.1017/S0954579414000728. Epub 2014 Jul 21.


The present study examined the impact of children's maltreatment experiences on the emergence of externalizing problem presentations among children during different developmental periods. The sample included 788 youth and their caregivers who participated in a multisite, prospective study of youth at-risk for maltreatment. Externalizing problems were assessed at ages 4, 8, and 12, and symptoms and diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder were assessed at age 14, during interviews with youth and caregivers. Information about maltreatment allegations was coded from official records. Latent transition analysis identified three groups of youth with similar presentations of externalizing problems ("well adjusted," "hyperactive/oppositional," and "aggressive/rule-breaking") and transitions between groups from ages 4, 8, and 12. A "defiant/deceitful" group also emerged at age 12. Girls were generally more likely to present as well adjusted than boys. Children with recent physical abuse allegations had an increased risk for aggressive/rule-breaking presentations during the preschool and preadolescent years, while children with sexual abuse or neglect allegations had lower probabilities of having well-adjusted presentations during middle childhood. These findings indicate that persistently severe aggressive conduct problems, which are related to the most concerning outcomes, can be identified early, particularly among neglected and physically and sexually abused children.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Behavior / classification
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Adjustment*