A question for DSM-V: which better predicts persistent conduct disorder—delinquent acts or conduct symptoms?

Jeffrey D Burke, Rolf Loeber, John S Mutchka, Benjamin B Lahey
Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health: CBMH 2002, 12 (1): 37-52

BACKGROUND: Conduct disorder (CD), a psychiatric index of antisocial behaviour, shares similarities with delinquency, a criminological index. This study sought to examine which factors in childhood predict a repeated diagnosis of CD in adolescence, and whether self-reported delinquent acts enhance the utility of symptoms of CD in predicting later persistent CD.

METHOD: Longitudinal data used in this paper come from a clinic-referred sample of 177 boys, along with their parents and teachers, who were assessed using a structured clinical interview. The boys also reported on their delinquent behaviours, as well as a broad range of other family and life events.

RESULTS: Before age 13, 77 boys met criteria for CD according to their parent, 69 according to their own report, and 36 reported three or more delinquent acts. Forty-eight boys (29%) met criteria for CD three or more times between 13 and 17. In childhood, delinquency overlapped, but was distinct from CD. Both were present in 28 cases, while 41 cases had CD without delinquency, and eight had delinquency without CD. When tested as predictors of later persistent CD, child-reported CD was the strongest predictor of later persistent CD, but self-reported delinquency was stronger than parent-reported CD. A final model of significant predictors included child-reported CD, delinquency, poor child communication with parents, and maternal prenatal smoking.

CONCLUSIONS: It appears that delinquency does add uniquely to the prediction of persistent CD. It may be useful to expand the diagnostic criteria for CD accordingly.

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