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Family dynamics and preadolescent girls with ADHD: the relationship between expressed emotion, ADHD symptomatology, and comorbid disruptive behavior

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Background:

Despite the strong biological underpinnings of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), family factors remain salient influences on the course of the disorder. However, relatively little is known about how family-level variables relate to ADHD in girls and whether these variables are linked primarily to core ADHD symptomatology or to comorbid aggressive conditions. Methods:

We investigated the relationship between parental expressed emotion (EE), measured via the five-minute speech sample (FMSS), and ADHD as well as comorbid disruptive behavior disorders, in a diverse sample of 131 girls aged 6–12 years. Results:

High parental EE was associated with both ADHD and aggression, whether these constructs were measured categorically or continuously. The EE component of criticism, as opposed to emotional overinvolvement (EOI), showed the stronger associations with both constructs. ADHD subtypes (Inattentive vs. Combined) were equivalent with respect to prediction from high EE status. Whereas linkages with EE were stronger for ADHD than for aggression and withstood control of comorbid aggression, the converse was not true – i.e., the link between EE and aggression did not hold with control of ADHD. Multiple regression analyses revealed that the associations were independent of parenting stress and maternal depression; exploratory analyses revealed interactions between EE and (a) maternal depression and (b) Child Verbal IQ with respect to predictions of disruptive behavior. Conclusions:

These findings add to a growing body of literature on ADHD in girls and highlight a pivotal link between family dynamics and the spectrum of ADHD-related behaviors. They also indicate that inattentive symptoms may be equally challenging to parents as hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.
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Keywords: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; comorbid aggression; expressed emotion; family dynamics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Virginia, USA 2: University of California, Berkeley, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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