The strengths and difficulties questionnaire as a predictor of parent-reported diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Ginny Russell, Lauren R Rodgers, Tamsin Ford
PloS One 2013, 8 (12): e80247
The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is widely used as an international standardised instrument measuring child behaviour. The primary aim of our study was to examine whether behavioral symptoms measured by SDQ were elevated among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) relative to the rest of the population, and to examine the predictive value of the SDQ for outcome of parent-reported clinical diagnosis of ASD/ADHD. A secondary aim was to examine the extent of overlap in symptoms between children diagnosed with these two disorders, as measured by the SDQ subscales. A cross-sectional secondary analysis of data from the Millennium Birth Cohort (n = 19,519), was conducted. Data were weighted to be representative of the UK population as a whole. ADHD or ASD identified by a medical doctor or health professional were reported by parents in 2008 and this was the case definition of diagnosis; (ADHD n = 173, ASD n = 209, excluding twins and triplets). Study children's ages ranged from 6.3-8.2 years; (mean 7.2 years). Logistic regression was used to examine the association between the parent-reported clinical diagnosis of ASD/ADHD and teacher and parent-reported SDQ subscales. All SDQ subscales were strongly associated with both ASD and ADHD. There was substantial co-occurrence of behavioral difficulties between children diagnosed with ASD and those diagnosed with ADHD. After adjustment for other subscales, the final model for ADHD, contained hyperactivity/inattention and impact symptoms only and had a sensitivity of 91% and specificity of 90%; (AUC) = 0.94 (95% CI, 0.90-0.97). The final model for ASD was composed of all subscales except the 'peer problems' scales, indicating of the complexity of behavioural difficulties that may accompany ASD. A threshold of 0.03 produced model sensitivity and specificity of 79% and 93% respectively; AUC = 0.90 (95% CI, 0.86-0.95). The results support changes to DSM-5 removing exclusivity clauses.


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