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Neurocognitive Functioning Mediates the Prospective Association of Birth Weight With Youth ADHD Symptoms

  • Author(s): Morgan, JE
  • Loo, SK
  • Lee, SS
  • et al.
Abstract

©, Copyright © Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Although birth weight is a potential causal risk factor for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, both the specificity of this association and its mediating pathways are largely unknown. We carefully assessed youth with and without ADHD (i.e., Wave 1), and followed them prospectively for 2 years (i.e., Wave 2). We (a) tested the association of birth weight with Wave 2 ADHD symptoms, and (b) evaluated biologically plausible neurocognitive functions from Wave 1 as temporally ordered mediators of birth weight and Wave 2 ADHD symptoms in a multiple mediation framework. At Wave 1, 222 ethnically diverse youth (30% female; ages 5–10) completed the Digit Span, Vocabulary, Symbol Search, and Arithmetic subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children–IV. At both Wave 1 and Wave 2 (ages 7–13), multiple informants (i.e., parents, teachers) rated youth ADHD symptoms and co-occurring psychopathology using multiple methods (i.e., structured interview, rating scale). Controlling for demographic factors, gestational age, and co-occurring externalizing and internalizing psychopathology, birth weight inversely predicted Wave 2 ADHD symptoms across multiple methods and informants. Additionally, controlling for Wave 1 ADHD symptoms and relevant covariates, Wave 1 Arithmetic uniquely mediated the association of birth weight with multi-method/informant Wave 2 ADHD symptoms. These findings suggest that birth weight is a relatively specific risk factor for youth ADHD symptoms and they implicate individual differences in fluid reasoning as a preliminary causal mediator of this association. We discuss implications for future research evaluating causal mechanisms underlying risk factors for ADHD.

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