Pathways from Birth Weight to ADHD Symptoms through Fluid Reasoning in Youth with or without Intellectual Disability

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2018 May;46(4):729-739. doi: 10.1007/s10802-017-0341-2.


Although individual differences in fluid reasoning reliably mediate predictions of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms from birth weight in youth with typical cognitive development (TD), it is unknown if this indirect effect operates similarly in the development of ADHD symptoms secondary to intellectual disability (ID). Thus, we evaluated mediation by fluid reasoning in a longitudinal sample of 163 youth (45% female) with (n = 52) or without (n = 111) ID who were followed prospectively from age 5 to age 13. At age 9, youth completed the Arithmetic subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, a measure of fluid reasoning. At ages 9 and 13, mothers and teachers separately rated youth ADHD symptoms and mothers completed a diagnostic interview. Mediation was tested via path analysis with bootstrapped confidence intervals, and moderated mediation estimated whether indirect effects differed between ID and TD youth or based on youth IQ. Controlling for demographic factors and age 9 ADHD symptoms, age 9 Arithmetic mediated birth weight and multi-method/informant age 13 ADHD symptoms, such that birth weight positively predicted Arithmetic, which negatively predicted ADHD symptoms. Neither ID status nor IQ moderated the observed indirect effect through Arithmetic, suggesting that it was similar for ID and TD youth as well as across the range of youth IQs. These findings support previous evidence that fluid reasoning, as measured by Arithmetic, may causally mediate birth weight and ADHD symptoms, and suggest that this pathway operates similarly with respect to the development of ADHD symptoms in youth with ID.

Keywords: ADHD; Birth weight; Fluid reasoning; Intellectual disability; Mediation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / complications
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Birth Weight / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / complications
  • Intellectual Disability / physiopathology*
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Problem Solving / physiology*