Toward Defining Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Using the Child Behavior Checklist:

A Controlled Study

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Thomas J. Spencer, MD; Stephen V. Faraone, PhD; Craig B. H. Surman, MD; Carter Petty, MA; Allison Clarke, BA; Holly Batchelder, BS; Janet Wozniak, MD; and Joseph Biederman, MD

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Postgraduate Medicine:

Volume 123 No. 5


Clinical Focus

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DOI: 10.3810/pgm.2011.09.2459
Abstract: Objective: Deficient emotional self-regulation (DESR) is characterized by deficits in self-regulating the physiological arousal caused by strong emotions. We examined whether a unique profile of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) would help identify DESR in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Methods: Subjects included 197 children with ADHD and 224 children without ADHD. We defined DESR if a child had an aggregate cut-off score of > 180 but < 210 on the Anxiety/Depression, Aggression, and Attention scales of the CBCL (CBCL-DESR). This profile was selected because of: 1) its conceptual congruence with the clinical concept of DESR; and 2) because its extreme (> 210) form has been previously associated with severe forms of mood and behavioral dysregulation in children with ADHD. All subjects were comprehensively assessed with structured diagnostic interviews and a wide range of functional measures. Results: Forty-four percent of children with ADHD had a positive CBCL-DESR profile versus 2% of controls (P < 0.001). The CBCL-DESR profile was associated with elevated rates of anxiety and disruptive behavior disorders, as well as significantly more impairments in emotional and interpersonal functioning. Conclusions: The CBCL-DESR profile helped identify a subgroup of children with ADHD who had a psychopathological and functional profile consistent with the clinical concept of DESR.

Keywords: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; affective symptoms; severity of illness index; youth; emotional self-regulation